The immediate and extended families of Anthony Rose came together Thursday with sorrow and pride for a final farewell to one of their own.
Relatives of Rose, one of 19 who died June 30 fighting a wildfire north of Phoenix, were joined by hundreds of firefighters, friends and well-wishers to honor his memory during a memorial service at the Congdon Funeral Home in Zion.
Contact information ( * required )
A huge American flag hung between two Zion Fire/Rescue Department aerial trucks with ladders extended as a gateway to the final alarm for Rose, who grew up in the area.
"All of this tradition and the fire trucks are for the family to show them the fire service is with them and for them," said Justin Stried, a lieutenant/paramedic with the Zion department.
At 23, Rose, known as Tony, was among the youngest of the victims. His ashes were returned home Wednesday night, and the plane was met by more than 200 firefighters at Waukegan Regional Airport.
Rose was a member of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots, who were trapped while battling the blaze at Yarnell Hill and killed when a wind shift cut off their escape route. Thousands, including Vice President Joe Biden, paid their respects earlier this week near the site of a new public overlook there.
The same night Rose's remains arrived home, the U.S. Forest Service declared the fire contained. About 13 square miles were burned, and the fire resulted in the biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.
Rose grew up in Beach Park and Wadsworth and attended Zion-Benton Township High School for his freshman and part of sophomore year before leaving for Arizona in 2006. He worked at the Crown King Fire Department, where his uncle was a dispatcher, and became a firefighter at 18. Rose "just blossomed" at the department, a retired firefighter there said last week.
His 18-year-old brother, Alex Sperry, described Rose as a hero who had found his calling.
"He just fell in love with it. He loved the adrenaline rush. He loved it to the end, and we couldn't be prouder of him," he said.
Sperry said the family appreciated the outpouring of support in his brother's memory.
"My brother was a good man. He definitely was the person I could look up to."
Sharon and Dean Wooley of Beach Park were among those who attended the visitation. Sharon Wooley said she knew Rose's parents, and the move to Arizona turned their son's life around.
"It's sad. Very. Heartbreaking," she said. "There are no words when you have to bury your baby."
Prescott, Ariz., home base of the Granite Mountain hotshots, was among the many departments represented Thursday. Twenty-five percent of the Prescott force was lost in the tragedy, Batallion Chief Cory Moser said. Statewide assistance from other departments, which continue to man the entire Prescott force, is the only thing that has kept them afloat.
"The scope of it is just staggering. We would have collapsed as an organization," Moser said. The level of support has been incalculable.
"It means everything," he said. "It means our sanity."
Moser said he met Rose at a fire in Crown King and after a half-hour knew he wanted to work with him.
"Nothing could have made me miss it," he said of the memorial service. "We loved Tony. We just wanted to support his family."
The family also received a proclamation of honor from State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis, a flag and "medal of life" from the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association President Mike Falese and a bible from Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois.
Before those presentations, firefighters from as far south as Champaign held a single-file walk through the funeral home for a final salute to Rose. The surrounding streets, filled with dozens of onlookers, fell silent during the solemn procession.
"This is one fire service community," said Beach Park Fire Chief Paul Tierney, who has been in the profession 37 years.
"It's something we recognize when we take the job on. It's our duty to honor and respect those who make the ultimate sacrifice."