Firefighters and police officers arrived early at the Plainfield Fire Department on Tuesday afternoon for a memorial service for late firefighter Kevin Sanders.
Many were in dress uniforms.
The first group of civilians to arrive, by contrast, wore T-shirts. But they were special — blue, with a Superman symbol on the front, and customized with the words "R.I.P. Sanders — A true hero" on the backs.
Mourners gathered to honor Sanders, 33 — a Superman fanatic — who was among 15 people killed by an April 17 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
The former Palos Hills and Plainfield resident was a married father of a 3-month-old.
According to reports, Sanders was taking an EMT class at a nearby ambulance station when students were asked to help evacuate nearby buildings after a fire started at the plant. The subsequent explosion also injured about 200 people and left a crater measuring 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep.
Before moving to Texas, Sanders worked for Plainfield's Emergency Management Agency from 2006 to 2011, which is why the service was there Tuesday.
"He was a good guy. Always willing to help out. Nobody had anything bad to say about him," Police Chief John Konopek said outside Fire Department headquarters, where flags were flying at half-staff — the American flag slightly above the state flags of Illinois and Texas.
Konopek, the EMA director when Sanders worked there, said, "Kevin was always willing to help out wherever he was needed. If you asked him to do something he got it done without needing any supervision."
A ceremonial walk-through by firefighters from dozens of local fire departments was to take place later Tuesday evening.
A funeral service was scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Church, 8245 W. 111th St., Palos Hills.
According to numerous media reports Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to investigate the explosion and whether U.S. chemical safety laws are being properly enforced. The cause of the fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. has not been determined.
Sanders attended Marist High School in Chicago's Mount Greenwood Community, and Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills before earning a bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Illinois and a veterinary technology degree from Parkland College.
Since moving to Texas, Sanders had worked as a vet tech at two animal hospitals and was a part-time teacher at a community college in Waco. He had been a volunteer for the Bruceville-Eddy Fire Department for about a year and recently passed his skills test to become an EMT, according to his obituary.
He loved caring for animals, working on cars, restoring his 1970 Dodge Charger, listening to music and attending concerts, watching the Bears and the Fighting Illini, playing paintball and spending time with his family, according to the obituary on southtownstar.com.
"He always wanted to help people and he was very focused on family, even before he had one of his own," Konopek said.
Sanders is survived by his wife, Sarah; their 3-month-old son, Reeve; and his mother, Sandra Sanders.
Donations for the family can be made at any Chase Bank branch to the account of Sarah Sanders of Eddy, Texas. The family also asked that consideration be given to donating to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which has helped it through the tragedy.