By Kevin Barlow
HUDSON, Ill — Charleston High School graduate Chris Brown marked an anniversary on Tuesday - 12 years with the Bloomington Fire Department.
But he didn't hang up his fire gear when he went home to Hudson. As a volunteer with that town's fire department, Brown was on call Tuesday night and was one of the rescue personnel responding to a multiple vehicle accident on Interstate 39.
He was struck and killed at the scene, leading colleagues and others to not only mourn his loss, but celebrate him as a man who enjoyed life, his family, friends and community - and the job.
Brown, 39, died at 11:38 p.m. Tuesday at BroMenn Regional Medical Center as a result of blunt force trauma caused by the accident, said McLean County Coroner Beth Kimmerling. He leaves behind a wife and two sons.
The accident was called into the Hudson Fire Department about 9:45 p.m., following a snowy day that may have contributed to the accident involving two semi-trailers on I-39, one mile south of Hudson. About an hour later, a southbound semi-trailer carrying a load of automobiles lost control and struck three first-responder vehicles belonging to the Hudson department and Illinois State Police.
Brown, a Hudson volunteer for the past three years, and five other Hudson firefighters were transported to BroMenn. The four others were treated and released. State police said the accident remains under investigation.
"Today we lost a member of our Hudson family," said Hudson fire Chief Dan Hite. "We share in the sorrow felt by his loved ones, and we must not forget the valuable contributions he made to this community and the impact he has left on the Hudson Fire Department."
Hite called the department "a close-knit family and the loss of one of our own affects us all. A tragedy of this type is felt by each and every member, but together, we can make it through. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Flags were at half staff at both the Hudson and Bloomington fire departments Wednesday and at the Normal Fire Department.
"We are deeply saddened by the painful loss of one of our own, and we will do our best to support his immediate family as well as his firefighter families in both Bloomington and Hudson," said Bloomington fire Chief Mike Kimmerling.
Bloomington Capt. Eric West said he worked with Brown for much of the time Brown was with the Bloomington department.
"In fact, Tuesday was his anniversary date," West said. "He was a great guy and I treated him like a son. He was a great worker, a great family man and he also knew how to have fun. He could get a little ornery with me, but he didn't mind when I got ornery with him, either."
Family was important to Brown, noted West.
"He was a guy with really two families," he said. "He had his firefighting family and he had his wife and two sons. He loved both of those families and we were all proud of him."
"He was the type of guy that when that pager went off, he would respond," said Shane Hill, public information officer for the Hudson department. "When somebody needed help, no matter if it was the middle of the night or when other people were leading their own lives, he would put his on hold and go help. Because he was a full-time firefighter in Bloomington, he acted as a mentor to some of our people. He was the best type of guy."
"He is irreplaceable," said Chief Kimmerling. "There are certain people you enjoy being around and he was one of them. He was engaging and caring and this is just a huge, huge loss for us and he will never be able to be replaced."
Both West and Hill said their respective departments were dealing with the tragedy as best they could.
"Words can't really describe how people cope with something like this because everyone handles it in different ways," Hill said. "We are a close-knit family and we are here for each other. Our first focus is to help his family and then we are concerned about the firefighters also at the scene. But throughout the day, we have received support and offers of help from everyone and that is a huge help. All of the area departments have offered assistance and help and we are appreciative of that."
Added West," We have our moments, both good and bad. We still have to do our job, but it is tough to go out there and think that he should be there with us. But we have been talking about the fun times and then there are moments where we just sit and reflect quietly. We are really going to miss him, though."
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