Over 1,000 pay respects to fallen firefighter Daniel Capuano

SHARE Over 1,000 pay respects to fallen firefighter Daniel Capuano
SHARE Over 1,000 pay respects to fallen firefighter Daniel Capuano

The wait in line to pay respects to the late Chicago firefighter Daniel Capuano was more than two hours long on Thursday evening at St. Rita of Cascia Catholic High School.

The line to enter the chapel stretched a block and a half down a west hallway and another block and a half down the north one.

But a sea of firefighters waited patiently, regally, in formal blues, white caps and white gloves.

Their black armbands and badges heralded first responders — police included — from nearby towns and beyond.

Interspersed between them were family and friends in a sea of puffy eyes, teardrops and sniffles.

It was a time to say so long to a dedicated firefighter who colleagues have said loved his job — and loved his family more.

Capuano, 42, a 15-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, was killed on Monday while battling a blaze at a vacant warehouse in the South Chicago neighborhood where alleged “unauthorized work” was being done.

He leaves behind his wife of 20 years, Julie; a 16-year-old daughter, Amanda; and twin sons, Nick and Andrew, 12.

Inside the chapel at 7720 S. Western Ave., his wife stood stoically in a black dress in front of the open, mocha-colored casket — their three tearful children before her in a front pew — to greet a tidal wave of mourners. Capuano’s mother, Jacquelyn, and her own family members, stood with her or sat nearby.

Inside the casket, Capuano, assigned to Tower Ladder 34 in the Avalon Park neighborhood, was dressed in his formal blues.

One by one, tearful and solemn mourners approached the casket flanked by cascades of red and white flowers, carnations and mums, made the sign of the cross, hugged his wife and his mother.

The visitation officially was to begin at 3 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. But by 7:30 p.m., that line still stretched, onward, with no sign of waning.

Outside, cars and official vehicles forming a geographic parade of myriad police and fire department logos kept coming, passing first under the majestic ladder arch created by two fire trucks — an American flag draped from their center — parked on either side of 77th Street and Western Avenue.

A U.S. flag is draped from two fire engine ladders outside St. Rita. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

A U.S. flag is draped from two fire engine ladders outside St. Rita. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Capuano was killed when he fell through an elevator shaft at the three-story warehouse in the 9200 block of South Baltimore, after firefighters responded to a fire at the building just before 3 a.m. Monday.

He was searching through heavy smoke on the second floor of the building when he fell down the elevator shaft and into the basement.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. But the city Department of Buildings charges that “unauthorized work” was being performed at the warehouse without a permit, including complete removal of the elevator and other structural changes.

Firefighters enter St. Rita to pay their respects to the family of Daniel Capuano. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Firefighters enter St. Rita to pay their respects to the family of Daniel Capuano. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Capuano’s wife, a Chicago Public Schools teacher at Nathan Davis Elementary in Brighton Park, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court against the company that owns the warehouse.

Her suit accuses the owner of the building of negligence and violation of city and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

Capuano is the fourth firefighter to be killed in the line of duty in the past five years. On Nov. 2, Capt. Herbert Johnson, 54, a 32-year veteran, died after he and another firefighter were injured in a blaze at a home in the Gage Park neighborhood. And on Dec. 22, 2010, two firefighters, Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer — also assigned to Capuano’s firehouse — were killed battling a blaze when a wall collapsed at an abandoned South Shore laundry.

City Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago and other top brass arrived at the chapel early Thursday and were seen leaving about 2:15 p.m.

Mourners walk to St. Rita to honor Daniel Capuano. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mourners walk to St. Rita to honor Daniel Capuano. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

About 6 p.m., an ocean of young boys — there had to be nearly 50 — arrived at the chapel, wearing the hockey uniforms of the St. Jude Knights hockey league that Capuano, a fierce hockey fan, had long coached. The Chicago Blackhawks had held a moment of silence for him before a game this week.

The boys filed in, some of their fresh and saddened faces tear-streaked, to pay their respects.

And at 7 p.m., most every firefighter in the house lined up and entered the chapel — all else silently ceasing — as they marched in queue, two by two, to the front of the chapel, white gloves going up in final salute.

His wife cried.

A funeral mass will be said for Capuano at the St. Rita chapel at 10 a.m. Friday. Burial will be at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery, 6001 W. 111th St. in Alsip.

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