TONAWANDA, NY, USA U.S. Army SSG, 3RD DETACHMENT , 1ST BRIGADE, 98TH DIVISION, (TF LIBERTY), PENNSAUKEN, NJ BAGHDAD, IRAQ 04/04/2005
At the Jefferson Avenue firehouse in Buffalo, NY home to Engine 21, a flag bearing a gold star hangs from the rafters – a reminder of a 28-year-old firefighter, Christopher Dill, who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“He was a guy you couldn’t miss, always joking around, until the bell rang,” says Jim LaMacchia, chief of the battalion that includes Engine 21. “He was no nonsense at a fire, always trying to do it right, do it better.”
Christopher Dill did not, however, die fighting a fire. He died fighting insurgents in Iraq, ambushed while training an untried unit of Iraqi recruits.
“For Christopher, being a soldier and being a fireman went hand-in-hand,” explained SSG Dill’s wife Dawn. “It was his job just like putting out fires, and he never acted like going to Iraq was somehow bad luck or something. It was his duty and he did it.”
Back at the Jefferson Street firehouse, the war seems much closer. Dill, whose father is a retired Buffalo arson investigator, was a SSG with the 98th Division of the U.S. Army Reserves, a unit called up in September 2004. Dill’s presence is still felt there, bolstered by photos of him on duty in Buffalo, and pictures he sent back to the house proudly posing with the Iraqi greenhorns he was trying to season. Dill’s casket was borne on the Engine 21 rig from the airport, and thousands upon thousands of local residents lined the route.
At a reunion honoring SSG Dill, Dawn talked about their life together. She had met her future husband in grammar school and added that she could never have gone on without the help of the firefighters. “They were there the entire time, they still check on me all the time,” she says, smiling across the table at his friends. “You’re almost married to ’em just like you’re married to your husband.”
“Chris’s last gift to us was to renew that sense of pride that we have in being members of the department and taking care of one another. Christopher never had any doubt that what he was doing was not right,” explained LT. Mike Croft of the Buffalo Fire Department.