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FIREFIGHTER-SOLDIER COMES HOME
HONOR GUARD, FIRE BELL NOTE PASSAGE OF DILL'S FLAG-DRAPED COFFIN

The signature 1-3-4 ring on a Buffalo fire bell marks a company's return to quarters.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, that same chime pierced the silent air of a normally hectic Jefferson Avenue evening, marking fallen Firefighter Christopher W. Dill's return to his Engine 21 firehouse.

Dill, 32, a staff sergeant with the 98th Division of the U.S. Army Reserves, died in Iraq on April 4 after he was shot during an ambush while patroling with Iraqi troops he helped train.

An honor guard of more than 70 firefighters stood at attention, saluting Dill's flag-draped coffin as its motorcade slowly passed the firehouse. Neighbors on bicycles and foot lined the sidewalk across from the fire station, removing their hats and paying their own respects to Dill.

Black and purple bunting symbolizing a company in mourning hung from one of the firehouse bays along with a single gold star flag, symbolizing the loss.

"When something like this hits, it really hits home that here are these young kids fighting for our freedom," said Buffalo Fire Division Chief Edward Craver.

"We are a family," Craver said. "It's kind of something we have in common with the military. It is our family, so this is like losing someone in our family."

The motorcade, consisting of city and suburban, county and state police and emergency agencies -- and Dill's father, William E., retired head of the fire investigation bureau -- picked up the body shortly after 5 p.m. from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport after it arrived on a flight from Philadelphia.

The motorcade traveled the Kensington Expressway to Humboldt Parkway and then down Jefferson Avenue where it passed the firehouse, home to Engines 16 and 21 and Ladder 6.

Dill, who left for Iraq last fall, kept in regular contact with his fellow firefighters, according to Lt. Keith Burke, who tolled the bell at Tuesday's ceremony.

"He was just great to be around . . . we had a lot of fun together," said Burke, who worked with Dill at Engine 21 for four years. "It was an honor to be here and bring him home and ring the bell."

"He was a true sergeant -- a military guy -- and he'd always make sure he was dressed appropriately . . . spit polished . . .," said Daniel Cunningham, vice president of Firefighters Union Local 282.

Cunningham remembered Dill as a rookie when the two worked together at Engine 16.

Just before Dill left for Iraq last October, Cunningham recalled, he and his fellow firefighters had a send-off with a few drinks at a local bar. He also remembered seeing Dill slowly circling the inside of the firehouse days before his departure.

"He was taking it all in like 'am I coming back here?' " Cunningham said.

When the firehouse learned of Dill's death last week, they made a return trip to the same tavern.

"It was devastating," he said.

"It's tragic because even though it happens in this job, when it's someone you know, it's just really hard," Cunningham said. "I'm 54 years old. He's 32. I've lived a whole life and he's not going to live anymore."

Visitation for Dill will be held from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and Thursday in Amigone Funeral Home, 2600 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda. A Mass of Christian Burial with military honors will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Edmund Catholic Church, 530 Ellicott Creek Road, Town of Tonawanda.

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this report.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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