PEORIA- In Peoria, the last firefighter to die in the line of duty was Vernon "Butch" Gudat, thirty years ago Wednesday.
"Today is a very solemn day for all the Peoria Fire Department," said fire Chief Kent Tomblin.
It was a solemn day for a lot of people as the community gathered around the grave of a Peoria hero. Butch died in the line of duty when a brick wall crumbled on top of him. No firefighters have died in Peoria in the 30 years since his death.
People took the opportunity to not just remember his death, but talk about his life too.
"As a rookie, which I was a rookie at the time, he took us underneath his wings and he taught us how to fight fires, but he taught us what fire fighting was all about, and it's all about helping people," Tomblin said.
Of the dozens of people who braved the January cold, a large group of fire fighters stood in solidarity.
"it's a test to how we're a family. How fire fighters stick together because 30 years and we still got 40 or 50 guys here."
Some of those guys had never even met butch. Like Pekin Fire Chief Kurt Nelson, who said the bond they share as firemen goes beyond city limits.
"It spans municipalities an it doesn't really matter who you are or where you're from if you're a firefighter you're part of that brotherhood," Nelson said.
After three decades, this local hero is still in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.
"It's really nice that people will see me on the street somewhere and remember my dad even 30 years later and you know I look a lot like him and they'll go hey, aren't you butch's son? And I'm still amazed that 30 years later they still remember him," said Butch's son, Mike Gudat.
Gudat said his father's memory also lives on in the scholarships set up in his name. Every year two area high school seniors receive $1,500 for college tuition, and a fire prevention grant is given to one of the Tri- County fire departments.
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