Sculpture Honors Naperville, IL Firefighters Killed in Crash

(Naperville Fire Department photo, Facebook)

‘Ladder of Light’ unveiled on 50th anniversary

Suzanne Baker, Naperville Sun, Ill.


A statue of a Naperville firefighter in rescue mode rushing into danger illuminates the night sky along Jefferson Street in a tiny park nestled near the bridge over the west branch of the DuPage River.

“Ladder of Light” created by Naperville artist Paul Kuhn in partnership with Dark Moon Designs and Intelligent Lighting Creations was unveiled Monday just after dusk on the 50th anniversary of the day three Naperville firefighters were killed when their fire truck was struck by another vehicle.

About 200 people were on hand in the park and in the parkway across the street for the hour-long ceremony at Fireman’s Memorial Park, which unintentionally included the lights and sirens of an ambulance and fire truck headed east on Jefferson Street in response to an emergency call.

What makes this piece different from other sculptures in Naperville are the two large beams of light projected from the base that at night make it appear that the firefighter is climbing a ladder.

City Manager Doug Krieger said over the years the ceremonies recognizing those who have died in the line of duty have been a fitting tribute in Fireman’s Memorial Park.

The actual memorial, he said, was not.

The firefighter memorial had been a boulder with two bronze plaques, one of which honors Lt. George Winckler, who died Oct. 18, 1991, as a result of a heart attack in the line of duty during a training exercise. He’d been with the department since 1965.

The other remembers Lt. Richard Rechenmacher, engineer Jerry Herring and firefighter Bernard Petrowski, who were killed on Dec. 7, 1970, when their fire engine collided with a coal truck as they were responding to a house fire in Eola.

Krieger said over the last several years he’s spoken with Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis about doing something more on the site. “I didn’t think it was fitting to the sacrifices that our firefighters have made,” Krieger said.

“He said don’t worry about it; I will take care of it,” Krieger said. “And today you will see the results of that. It was taken care of with what I expect to be something that we can all be tremendously proud of.”

Puknaitis said the sculpture “first and foremost” will pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

But it also pays tribute to all firefighters who risk their lives every day as they carry out their duties, he said.

“Finally, it will tell the story of our great department that began in 1874 as a small volunteer department to what is now, the third largest fire department in Illinois serving over 150,000 people,” he said.

The park is located at the connection of the Naperville Riverwalk and the DuPage River Trail, meaning that sculpture will be frequently seen by people who like to walk, run or bike the trails or drive past it on Jefferson Street.

“They will now more than ever be reminded by the greater-than-life-size statue of what truly a Naperville firefighter and the fire service is all about,” Puknaitis said.

“We remember our fallen. We respect the families of whom we lost. We are loyal to the service to our community, and we will always strive for the image portrayed by the statue was intended to depict strength, courage and bravery.”


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