CHRISTOPHER (WSIL) — Hundreds gathered Tuesday to welcome a fallen firefighter back home to Christopher.
24-year-old Kody Vanfossan died Sunday morning while fighting a structure fire in downtown Christopher.
Local first responders from around the area held a procession Tuesday evening as his body was taken to a funeral home.
Community members gathered along sidewalks and highways between Marion and Christopher to pay their respects to Vanfossan and his family.
News 3’s Emily Manley spoke to Vanfossan’s mom, dad and grandpa after the procession about the loss of their beloved hero and how they are remembering the fallen firefighter.
"He died doing exactly what he wanted to do; helping the community," Kody’s father Brent Vanfossan said.
Brian and Mindy Vanfossan said their son Kody wanted to be a firefighter since he was five-years-old.
"He said he always wanted to be a fireman," Mindy said. "We even had to buy him real bunker gear and he carried it around everywhere, in and out of the car in a bunker bag."
Vanfossan’s parents said his personality was like none other.
"He was stubborn and bullheaded," Brent said laughing.
"He never knew a stranger and always wanted to help somebody," Mindy said.
Mindy said Kody was always there for his little brother and sister.
"He was the cool big brother, that if need be, he would pick up the phone," Mindy said.
Kody is also the grandson to Christopher Mayor, Gary Bartolotti.
"It hit me as a mayor and it also hit me as a grandfather," Bartolotti said.
The Christopher Fire Chief said Kody and his dad were fighting the fire on the second floor of the old Christopher Office Furniture store on Market and Emma Street when a call for Mayday came out.
"I’m not going to lie, I wish it was me in his place," Brent said.
Brent was rescued after falling through the second-story, but Kody was not recovered until hours later.
"I want everyone to know that they had some of the best firefighters in southern Illinois trying to get my son out of that building," Brent said.
According to Kody’s parents, he died doing what he loved to do.
"I wouldn’t wish it on anybody," Brent said.
"It doesn’t feel like it happened," Mindy said.
Brent is currently a lieutenant with the Christopher Fire Department and is going on his 27 year as firefighter.
His parents said Kody was a third generation firefighter.
Brent said you don’t think about what goes wrong while fighting a fire.
"It’s always in back of your mind, your hope it never happens and unfortunately it does and in this case it happened to my son," Brent said.
Days after Kody died, his family said the love from the community, family and friends is what is helping them through this tough time.
"I cannot express the gratitude we feel towards this community," Mindy said. "Even the smile and nods because they don’t know what to say mean a lot."
More tributes will honor the fallen firefighter this week when Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, will present a resolution on the House floor honoring Kody’s life.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered flags at half-staff starting Wednesday morning at sunrise until Friday at sunset.
Vanfossan’s visitation will be held Thursday, May 9 from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the Christopher High School Gym with a Firefighter Walk-through set for 7:30 p.m.
A Visitation will also be on Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. with a Firefighter Walk-through at 10:45 a.m.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the high school with burial to follow at St. Andrews Catholic Cemetery in Christopher.