Firefighters, police officers, family members and public officials gathered at Firemen’s Park Friday afternoon for an annual Remembrance Ceremony for Evanston first responders who have died in the line of duty.
The ceremony has occurred every July 22 since 1993, when Firemen’s Park first opened at 2040 Maple Ave. It is primarily dedicated to fallen firefighters Marty Leoni, who died at a house fire on July 22, 1985; and William Craig and George Stiles, who died at a pipe mill fire in 1905. In his remarks, Evanston Fire Department Chief Paul Polep also named fallen Evanston Police Department officers George Daugherty, James Shea and Warren Omslaer as honorees.
Polep said the ultimate sacrifices these first responders made were not in vain, as they have led to the fire and police departments utilizing better training, equipment and practices to improve safety as much as possible.
“Our departments, police and fire, are always learning from the good things we do, and from the tragedies and past tragedies that we’ve experienced,” Polep said. “The ultimate sacrifice these members in their respective departments gave has not only protected our residents better, but it has probably saved multiple police and fire members’ lives. And for that we thank you. We shall never forget.”
The service included prayers from the departments’ chaplains, remarks from local elected officials, performances of Amazing Grace and Taps, a color guard of fire and police personnel, and a dispatch call-out and bell ceremony to honor Leoni. Fire and police vehicles lined Maple Avenue and Simpson Street as personnel stood together on the park lawn.
During his remarks, Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss said reflecting on those lives lost in the line of duty reminds him of the risk taken every day by today’s first responders. He thanked the personnel in attendance for their commitment to the community’s safety.
“We have a lot of ambitions for what we want our government to achieve… but it all sits on a foundation of safety,” Biss said. “And the men and women who go to work every day to provide that foundation of safety do so with a constant background risk, that they are assuming intentionally and knowingly in order to pursue their commitment to public service.”
In attendance were Sue Leoni, sister-in-law of firefighter Leoni, and Patti Piron, great-granddaughter of firefighters Stiles. Piron said the ceremony plays an important role in sustaining the community’s memory of the fallen, even long after their passing.
She said the memory of her great-grandfather, passed from generation to generation, still has a profound effect on her family to this day.
“My dad used to say, ‘You come from good people,’ and we always knew about George Stiles,” Piron said. “It was ingrained into who we became. My father was a police officer here for 25 years. Service is what we do, we’re still here. We love our community and we always will, and we bring it down to our kids.”