NORMAL -- In the days that followed Chris Brown’s death, Steve Modine learned a lot about his close friend and fellow firefighter.
“You just keep hearing story after story about what a great friend he was to this person or how he helped this family out, or what he did for this group or how he helped out some stranger,” said Modine, a volunteer with the Hudson Fire Department. “I’m not a bit surprised. I knew he was a terrific person. There are cliches about how someone would give you the shirt off their back. Chris literally did. It’s inspiring. It makes you look at yourself and compare your life to his and you just can’t because he was a great role model in everything he did, whether it was being a firefighter, a Scout leader, a family guy, or just a great friend. He was special.”
Brown’s funeral was Monday at Eastview Christian Church, Normal. A full-time firefighter with Bloomington Fire Department, Brown was volunteering with the Hudson squad last Tuesday when a semitrailer truck skidded out of control and injured Brown and five other Hudson firefighters who were working at an accident scene on Interstate 39 north of Normal.
Brown, 39, died later that night at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center.
“He had many loves in his life,” said Bloomington Fire Capt. Jeff Emmert, who worked alongside Brown. “Without a doubt, though, his first love was his wife, Amie, and his sons, Max and Mason. His second love was firefighting. His third love was his phone. He was on that thing all the time. But he and I were like brothers, and I loved him like a son.”
Brown was eulogized as a man who loved his family, his career, his community and his life. The 90-minute ceremony included bagpipes and a final salute from several hundred firefighters from McLean County and across the state.
A small procession of fire trucks led the hearse from Eastview to the Hudson Fire Department for an open house in his honor.
Brown had several best friends, said Jamie Lanhardt of Kenosha, Wis., a former lieutenant with the Hudson department.
“I had heard about Chris before I even met him and then, five minutes after meeting him, I just knew that he was someone I really was going to respect and wanted to get to know better,” he said. “We became close and when I heard the news Wednesday that a Hudson firefighter had been killed, I was heartbroken. I just kept thinking that I didn’t want it to be Chris and when I found out it was, well, it was a rough day for me. He helped me through so many difficult times by just talking and being there for me. Last year, he took vacation days and helped me move to Wisconsin. How many people would do that for you?”
George Rosenbloom lives across the street from the Browns.
“My family and his family are really close,” he said. “Our kids are growing up together. I had the keys to his house, he had the keys to mine. I let his dogs out, he let mine out. I would watch his kids, he would watch mine. You cannot say enough good things about him.”
Peoria Heights Fire Chief Greg Walters described his nephew as a “positive person.”
“He lived a full, full life and the love for his family knew no bounds,” he said. “Chris lived in an almost perfect world and did everything with honor and class.”
Brown’s love of fun and dedication to service were not forgotten during the somber ceremony: Walters, one of several speakers, asked congregants to stand and dance for 25 seconds in Brown’s honor.
“Chris may have died young, but he lived a lot of life in those years,” said the Rev. Ken Graham. “Chris died as he lived, serving and caring for others.”