Saying goodbye to firefighter who was part of Palatine history
Palatine is preparing to say farewell to a longtime resident and volunteer firefighter who was on hand in 1973 when three of his colleagues died on a call at a downtown store.
With an old fire truck planned as a backdrop, a memorial service for George Palmer Jr. will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, on the grounds of the George H. Clayson House Museum and Library, 224 E. Palatine Road. The truck, driven to the Ben Franklin store tragedy, was part of this year's Palatine Fourth of July parade.
Palmer, 85, was living in Haines City, Florida, when he died suddenly Sept. 4, 2016. He died a day after sinking a 52-foot par putt on the ninth hole of his home golf course, believed to be one his greatest moments on the links, according to his Daily Herald obituary.
He was known throughout Palatine as the owner of Palmer Plumbing and for his service as a volunteer firefighter. Retired Elgin firefighter John Tobin got to know Palmer in the 1960s and '70s when his father, David, volunteered for the department.
He recalled how Palmer worked with the late Dr. Stanley Zydlo, considered the "father" of paramedic service in the Northwest suburbs. Zydlo, whose name is on a Palatine firehouse, organized a meeting of suburban departments that led to the development of the first paramedic program in the nation in 1972.
"George was a part of that first pilot program," Tobin said. "And the program, as we all know today, has continued to evolve over the years."
Palmer was with the crew that responded to the Ben Franklin store fire in downtown Palatine on Feb. 23, 1973. Volunteer firefighters John Wilson, who owned the shop, Warren "Auggie" Ahlgrim and Richard Freeman died of carbon monoxide inhalation while battling the blaze.
"Everyone wanted to save Johnny's store, and nobody realized what kind of danger they were in," Palmer told the Daily Herald in 2013. "They were good at eating smoke, but had they not had their air packs, they probably would have come out sooner. It was the brave thing to do. But in retrospect, they shouldn't have gone in."
Tobin owns the snorkel truck that was at the Ben Franklin fire. Now a rolling memorial, the truck was being used in Princeton, Indiana, when Tobin bought it about 1½ years ago and had it hauled back to Palatine.
"He (Palmer) made a special trip up from Florida to ride in it in the 2016 Palatine Fourth of July parade," Tobin said.
Retired Palatine firefighter Bill Noland Jr. said he'll be in his dress blue uniform for Palmer's memorial service. Noland worked with Palmer and was one of the volunteer firefighters at the Ben Franklin blaze.
He remembers Palmer for his skill driving the snorkel truck that'll be at the memorial and his deep involvement in the early paramedic classes.
"Just a good man and a good paramedic," Noland said.
Palmer was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Georgiana, in 2012. Survivors include his children Virginia Palmer, Dorie Maddocks and William Palmer.