CHICAGO (CBS) — Calling him a “stoic hero” who never sought the spotlight, despite being one of the Fire Department’s best rescue divers, the city of Chicago said goodbye Monday to Firefighter Juan Bucio, who gave his life trying to rescue a man who fell in the murky water of the Chicago River last week.
Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said Bucio not only was the fastest member of the Fire Department dive team, but also was disciplined, precise, and methodical.
“When things got done, it was accomplished on Juan’s time,” he said at Bucio’s funeral Monday afternoon at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel.
A Chicago fire engine carried Bucio’s casket – draped in the Chicago flag – from Blake-Lamb Funeral Home to St. Rita for the funeral mass.
A Fire Department SCUBA truck draped in purple and black bunting led the cortege down Western Avenue.
Hundreds of firefighters and police officers from around the country saluted Bucio’s casket as it was lowered from the fire engine to be carried into the chapel.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who hugged and kissed Bucio’s sons during the ceremony, said Bucio not only was one of the Fire Department’s best divers, but a “stoic hero.”
“Today, Chicago is full of sorrow. Today, hearts are overcome by grief. Today, we honor a brave life,” he said.
Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, who said Bucio was a member of the last team he taught at the Fire Academy, said the diver was destined to save lives, having been a strong swimmer since he was a child.
“Like all heroes, he was a humble man who didn’t seek the glare of attention,” Santiago said.
St. Procopius Pastor Fr. Gary Graf, who led the funeral service, said working with the open water dive team came naturally to Bucio, who loved to swim from the time he was a child.
“It was in his blood from the very earliest days,” Graf said.
Graf said Bucio performed his first search and rescue mission to save his brother while the family was crossing the border from Mexico when they were children.
“It told me the story about who he was. His sister describes him as an angel; successful in everything that he did, but particularly in his role as dad,” he said.
Bucio is survived by two sons – Joshua, 10, and Jacob, 9 – and nine siblings – including his brother, Isaac, a fellow firefighter; and his sister, Maria, a Chicago police officer.
A sea of firefighters and police officers in their dress blue uniforms applauded after Graf gave Bucio’s two sons his stole; calling it a symbol not only of his service as a priest, but of their own father’s service to the city.
“Know that from this day forward, you can count on everyone who’s here. We are with you we are your family. We will make sure you are taken care of. We can’t be your dad, but in his absence we will be present,” Graf said. “Thank you for sharing your dad with us, and know that we will be with you.”
Bucio’s brother and sister, Isaac and Maria, also paid tribute to him, choking back tears as they remembered a man they called “the strong one” of the family.
“He was the calm, the quiet strong one, and I just hope that I can be that now that he’s not here. We’re all hurting, but thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Maria said.
Isaac said got a lot of grief at the firehouse after making the move from Chicago Police Department, but said his colleagues have always had his back in both jobs.
“When my brother died, you guys were all my brothers, because we go by the same code as the Fire Department and the Police Department,” he said. “I have no words, no words, no words to explain what you guys have done for my brother, myself, his kids, my whole family. You guys have been there for us non-stop.”
After his brother’s death, Isaac said he now must be the strong one for his Joshua and Jacob.
“That’s all I have left of him,” Isaac said.
Mayor Emanuel said Bucio was a man “measured by deeds, not words.” The mayor noted that, a few years ago, Bucio dove from a helicopter into the murky water at Jackson Park Harbor on Father’s Day to search for a 5-year-old boy who had fallen in the water.
“There was no visibility, it was a difficult search, but Juan Bucio searching in the dark for a child on Father’s Day, said ‘Here Am I. Send me,’” the mayor said, quoting from the book of Isaiah in the Bible. “We will never know the full measure of Juan Bucio’s heroism, but what we do know is Juan devoted his life to those he did not know.”
The mayor noted Bucio not only was a firefighter and police officer, but a lifeguard for the Chicago Park District when he was a teenager.
“Because of Juan, parents were given a peace of mind when their children went to the beach. Because of Juan, there are inspired children who will grow up and serve Chicago, wearing its uniform. Beacause of Juan, our city is better. Juan served as he lived: incredibly, but quietly,” Emanuel said.
Santiago noted Bucio’s fellow Fire Department divers conducted training the day after he died.
“Juan would have wanted it no other way. Excellence. ‘Dude,’ which was one of his favorite words, ‘You’ve got to keep going,’” Santiago said. “And we’ve got to keep going.”
Santiago also said Bucio never took a single overtime shift, because it was more important than anything else for him to spend time with his sons.
“At the end of the day, Juan’s life always circled back to Joshua and Jacob,” he said.
Bucio will be buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in west suburban Stickney.