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Fallen firefighter remembered as being 'brave, good man'

Arefirefighters brave fridgid cold as they wait line outside Blake-Lamb funeral home attend wake fallen firefighter Eddie Stringer Oak Lawn

Area firefighters brave the fridgid cold as they wait in line outside Blake-Lamb funeral home to attend the wake of fallen firefighter Eddie Stringer in Oak Lawn on Monday. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

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A chorus of bagpipes and snare drums. A red fire truck strewn with hundreds of flowers. Uniformed mourners saluting. A color guard. A City of Chicago flag-draped coffin. A family holding on to each other, struggling in anguish.

On Tuesday, all were grand signs of the honor and decency of Edward Stringer, one of two Chicago firefighters killed in a building collapse Dec. 22.

For Fire Department Chaplain Thomas Mulcrone, Stringer’s decency was seen in a much subtler moment the day Stringer died. Before Stringer went to the firehouse for his shift that day, he shoveled his sidewalk and steps, leaving not a patch of snow or ice behind.

“They were perfectly clean,” Mulcrone said. “So were two homes to the south and one to the north. They were shoveled clean exactly the same way. He took care of his neighbors.”

At a packed funeral service at St. Rita of Cascia Chapel on the South Side Tuesday, Stringer was hailed as a hero, a word eulogizers said he never would have chosen for himself.

“Ed was all fireman and he loved being just that,” Mulcrone said. “He was always the first in and always the last out.”

A skilled firefighter at Engine Co. 63, Stringer was also known in the Chicago Fire Department as a “character” with a great sense of humor and love of firehouse pranks.

Stringer was fighting the blaze at a vacant laundry on 75th Street last Wednesday when the roof caved in. Fellow firefighter Corey Ankum also died. Seventeen other firefighters were injured in the disaster.

Before more than 1,000 mourners, Thomas Ryan, president of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, called Stringer “a hell of a firefighter.”

“Ed was quite a character, and his antics around the firehouse can only be described as legendary,” Ryan said. “But he was also a hell of a firefighter. He did his job with great passion, and his skills will be forever missed. Firefighting was a job Ed was born to do.”

Mayor Daley called Stringer “a brave, good man.”

“Without him and his brothers and sisters in the fire department this city could not function,” the mayor said.

Before the service began at 10 a.m., firefighters lined up 20-deep outside the chapel. They had solemnly walked, dozens at a time, on foot from Western Avenue down 77th Street.

Firefighters from around the region and beyond showed up to pay their respects, a tradition for funerals of fallen police officers and firefighters. Firefighters came from as far away as Canada. Boston firefighters drove 19 hours to the funeral after their flights were canceled because of the East Coast storm.

Before the service, Engine 63 circled the area while carrying Stringer’s casket. The engine, draped in purple and black bunting, had Stringer’s firefighting jacket and helmet on the bumper. “In memory of FF Edward Stringer” was written in gold letters on the side. A second truck, covered in white flowers, accompanied the first.

As an icy wind blew in the 15-degree temperatures, the Chicago flag-draped casket was lowered from the engine. Firefighters wearing white gloves stood at attention and saluted.

Stringer’s family, clutching each other, made their way to the church entrance to watch the casket’s arrival. Stringer’s son, Edward Jr., was one of the pallbearers.

In the church, soft guitar music played as a priest waved burning incense above Stringer’s casket. Sunlight colored red from stained glass streamed into the chapel as a single brass bell rang 11 times — the 3-3-5 call that once indicated a fire shift was over.

As the service ended with song lyrics asking “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Stringer’s body was again covered in a City of Chicago flag and taken from the church. Stringer’s mother, Joyce Lopez, paused and twice touched her son’s battered helmet, which was carried by a firefighter walking behind his casket. Lopez then leaned forward and tenderly kissed the helmet. The Chicago police department escort walking with Lopez wiped away a tear.

Firefighters saluted Stringer and his family as they left the church. Stringer was buried at Beverly Cemetery in Blue Island.

Services for Ankum are scheduled for later this week.

Stringer’s family didn’t speak during the service, though retired Lt. Thomas Flamm choked up as he read an emotional letter from Stringer’s mother thanking those who “have made a very difficult time in our life more bearable.”

“We hope that 2011 is a much safer year for all those who perform public service,” Lopez’s letter said. “Especially those in the City of Chicago.”

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