Elgin Fire Department remembers firefighters killed in 1974 rescue

  • Retired Elgin firefighters Larry Judkins and Craig Eadler watch a wreath in the Fox River from the Kimball Street bridge Tuesday. The wreath was dropped to memorialize two firefighters who died there in 1974 while rescuing two teens. "Those men were heroes," Judkins said of Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis.

      Retired Elgin firefighters Larry Judkins and Craig Eadler watch a wreath in the Fox River from the Kimball Street bridge Tuesday. The wreath was dropped to memorialize two firefighters who died there in 1974 while rescuing two teens. "Those men were heroes," Judkins said of Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Retired Elgin firefighter Larry Judkins drops a wreath into the Fox River from the Kimball Street bridge at 5:01 p.m. Tuesday to memorialize the deaths of Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis, two firefighters who died there 41 years ago after rescuing two teens. Judkins and EMT Craig Eadler, right, were involved in the rescue attempt.

      Retired Elgin firefighter Larry Judkins drops a wreath into the Fox River from the Kimball Street bridge at 5:01 p.m. Tuesday to memorialize the deaths of Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis, two firefighters who died there 41 years ago after rescuing two teens. Judkins and EMT Craig Eadler, right, were involved in the rescue attempt. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Members of the Elgin Fire Department salute Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis, memorialized Tuesday with a wreath dropped into the Fox River. Whalen and Balsis died at the spot 41 years ago.

      Members of the Elgin Fire Department salute Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis, memorialized Tuesday with a wreath dropped into the Fox River. Whalen and Balsis died at the spot 41 years ago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/2/2015 8:09 PM

The Elgin Fire Department Tuesday remembered two of its own who died 41 years ago while rescuing two teenagers.

Retired firefighter Larry Judkins dropped a wreath from the Kimball Street bridge into the Fox River to commemorate the deaths of Station 2 Pipeman Michael Whalen and his captain, Stanley Balsis. Standing with him was retired firefighter/EMT Craig Eadler. Both men were part of the rescue crew and saw Whalen and Balsis die.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Those guys were heroes," Judkins said. "They actually saved the kids in the water, but we couldn't save them."

The ceremony took place at 5:01 p.m., the time the call came in June 2, 1974. The tradition started about five years ago, Chief John Fahy said.

"There is no greater sacrifice a firefighter can give than laying down their life to save a fellow human being," Fahy said. "Stan Balsis and Michael Whalen made that sacrifice 41 years ago, forever changing the lives of the Balsis and Whalen families. May they rest in peace."

Two teens had, on a dare, ridden a raft over the dam on the flood-swollen river but capsized in the hydraulic roller, or boil, below the dam. Both teenagers survived.

The firefighters were killed when their rescue boat capsized. Whalen died almost immediately when their boat slammed against the concrete wall of the dam, while Balsis held on to the capsized boat for 45 minutes before the waters took him.

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