Hundreds of people from fire departments and law enforcement agencies across the state gathered at St. Rita of Cascia High School on the South Side Monday morning for the funeral of Juan Bucio, the Chicago Fire Department diver who died on Memorial Day while conducting a search in the Chicago River.
Throughout the two-hour service, 46-year-old Bucio was remembered as a skilled diver, committed public servant and, above all, a devoted father of two boys, Joshua and Jacob.
“Because of Juan, our city is better. To Joshua and Jacob, we love you. Know that your dad is a hero,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who hugged both boys and kissed them on the head.
The Rev. Gary Graf, who delivered the homily, said that when he asked Bucio’s family why he became a member of the dive team, they told him that “it was in his blood.”
Originally from Pilsen, Bucio worked as a life guard for the Chicago Park District in his teen years. A brother and sister of Bucio’s are also members of the fire and police departments.
Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said that Bucio — who was a Chicago Police officer for three years before joining the fire department — was in the last class Santiago taught at the fire academy.
He described Bucio as “the illustration of excellence” who was the fastest member of the dive team with a “methodical, steady and proficient” approach to his job.
The day after Bucio died, Santiago said, the dive team was back in the water training.
“Juan would want it no other way,” said Santiago, whose voice began to crack at the end of the eulogy.
Bucio died while searching for a man — Alberto Lopez — who fell into the South Branch of the Chicago River. Fire Department officials have said little about how Bucio died, though an investigation into his death is ongoing.
A spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said his cause and manner of death have not yet been determined as of Monday.
Hymns sung in Spanish, accompanied by a nylon string guitar, echoed through the school’s chapel throughout the service.
During the homily, Graf focused on Bucio’s willingness to risk his life for complete strangers. At the conclusion, Graf called Bucio’s sons to the front of the church, where he gave the boys his stole, “as a sign that he gave his life out of love for others.”
Bucio’s sons were given a standing ovation.
Addressing the large contingent of first responders in the church, Gov. Bruce Rauner said, “You are our heroes. We owe you the utmost support and respect.”
Before the services began, CFD Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Operations Timothy Sampey, praised Bucio as someone who took it upon himself to do more to help than most.
Members of the CFD’s Dive Team, Sampey said, sign up because they want to, not because they’re asked to.
“It’s a dangerous job,” Sampey said. “They understand that and they accept that. And that’s where the brotherhood comes in.”
“These guys go there willingly,” he added. “They’re not put there. They go there because they want to take the extra step of training.”
Eric Carter, the CPD’s deputy chief for special functions, which oversees the department’s Marine Unit, said the water-focused units of the police and fire departments are especially close and even share the same training facility on Burnham Harbor.
“This is solidarity between our two entities here for the city,” Carter said. “Police and Fire, regardless of whether he was a former police officer or not, we will always be there to stand beside them because they have always stood beside us, so this is something that we would do no matter what.”