GALENA, Ill. — The fire engine slowly rode past The Galena Territory Fire Station on Thursday evening, flanked on both sides by saluting firefighters. Its lights flickered rapidly as the sun began to set over the hillside. It was silent all around, save for the rumble of the engine.
This would be Ben Weimer’s last call. Surrounded by his fellow firefighters, his ashes were carried past the station as his friends and family watched and grappled with a tragedy they couldn’t comprehend.
Last year, Ben’s wife, Stacey Weimer, died without warning at her home. The tragedy struck the local fire department, but they rallied around Ben as he tried to raise his son as a single father.
Last week, one year after the death of his wife, Ben died in an accident at his house.
Tears filled the eyes of firefighters as they stood and watched the fire engine go by. The young couple had died suddenly and tragically, and their son now was left without his parents.
“I lost a very good friend,” said Ken Calvert, local emergency medical technician and Ben’s friend. “It’s just tragic what has happened to that family. It’s just not fair.”
Ben and Stacey moved to the Galena area four years ago, hoping to escape the bustle of life in Chicago. After settling in The Galena Territory, it wasn’t long before Ben joined the local fire department.
“Both of them were totally devoted to the fire department,” said Doug Rahden, fellow firefighter and friend of Ben. “They were always out there helping.”
When Ben went out on calls, Stacey would do what she could to help the families of other firefighters or provide whatever other support that she could. The two were welcomed, quickly and with open arms, by the firefighters of The Galena Territory Fire Department.
Even after Stacey’s death, Ben continued to serve as a firefighter, all while trying to manage as a single father. Rahden described Ben as kind and compassionate. He had experienced great tragedy but still was the first one to be there for those who were experiencing heartbreak themselves.
“We lost our baby boy a few months after Stacey passed away,” Rahden said. “I sent out a message to let friends and family know, and it wasn’t 30 minutes before Ben had shown up at the hospital. He had tears in his eyes, and he just hugged all of us.”
During his time in Galena, Ben garnered the friendship and adoration of many of his fellow firefighters. His devotion to helping when needed only was matched by his cheerfulness.
“Whenever I saw him, he always had the biggest smile on his face,” Calvert said. “We were at a fire one time, and he yelled at me from across the street to back up because a propane tank was going to blow. There wasn’t any danger or anything like that, and he just had a big grin on his face.”
The news of Ben’s death sent a wave of melancholy through the local fire department.
They still were moving on from the loss of Stacey. Now, Ben was gone, too.
“I remember I was at work, and I had to leave the office,” Rahden said. “It was happening again, and I just didn’t have any words.”
A few days later, Weimer’s family announced they did not intend to hold a funeral due to safety concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rahden and other firefighters still wanted to do something for Ben. They organized a last ride, taking Ben’s ashes from the fire station to the family’s home in The Galena Territory. Fire and police departments from throughout Jo Daviess County joined the procession.
On Thursday, the long line of vehicles silently drove through the neighborhood of the Weimers’ home. As the trucks passed by, neighbors stood out in their front yards, some holding flags and others with their hands on their hearts.
As the vehicles pulled up to the Weimers’ home, firefighters stepped out with Ben’s ashes and his helmet in hand.
As the fire engine continued to hum, they presented the helmet and ashes to his parents and son.