Firefighter graduation ceremonies are often joyous occasions, with family members cheering Chicago Fire Department recruits in the cavernous Navy Pier ballroom.
But a somber mood hung over the ceremony Thursday as the department mourned the loss of firefighter EMT Andrew “Drew” Price, who died Monday.
“His heroism and bravery and service will long be remembered,” Mayor Brandon Johnson told the 67 graduated EMTs and firefighters at Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom.
The ballroom will also be the site of the services for Price next Monday.
Price died battling an extra-alarm blaze in Lincoln Park. He was the fourth fire department member to die in the line of duty this year — the deadliest year for members in a quarter-century.
Johnson tried to raise the spirits of the recruits and their families with a pep talk praising the recruits for dedicating their lives to public service.
“Your healing hands will provide healing and comfort and compassion to those who need it the most,” Johnson said. “And when others run from danger, you are the ones that take it on. To do so takes extraordinary courage, selflessness and bravery. And for that, you are truly an inspiration to all of us.”
Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said this week has “proven very difficult and a heartbreaking time for the Chicago Fire Department.”
She led a moment of silence for Price. Then she welcomed the recruits to the fire department’s brotherhood and sisterhood.
“Your choice speaks to your desire to be of service to others and your willingness to put the safety of others above your own,” Nance-Holt said. “I welcome you to this family of brothers and sisters.”
Many recruits wait years for a chance to test into the fire department.
“I’m really anxious to get out there,” said Henry McGhee, who said he was on the department’s waitlist nine years before being recruited as a firefighter-EMT.
In the meantime, the 36-year-old was raising a young daughter and son while working at a nonprofit to help find homes for people without housing.
He said Price’s death has focused him to make “sure I pay attention to what’s going on.”
“I’ll stay cautious because I have a family I want to go back home to,” he said.