LAKE MILLS — Capt. Christopher Truman received a final salute from members of the Lake Mills Fire Department, honor guard and other emergency personnel during his funeral service Sunday.
The Lake Mills firefighter was remembered by hundreds of mourners this weekend at a Saturday visitation and fly-by salute involving approximately 15 fire departments from across the state and again on Sunday at the funeral of the 46-year-old captain who was killed while helping a motorist whose car crashed on a snowy Beltline in Monona on New Year’s Eve.
Among those paying their respects was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Truman was remembered not only as a firefighter, but also as a friend. He served on the fire department for 13 years and was employed as a maintenance worker for the City of Lake Mills.
“Service was never an inconvenience for Chris, whether it was serving his country, the fire service or performing a random act of kindness for a total stranger,” Acting Fire Chief Todd Yandre said during the service at Lake Mills High School. “Chris never expected or wanted recognition or thanks for his service. Serving others was his passion.
“Losing Chris will forever leave a void in our hearts,” Yandre continued. “We may be a small community, but we are strong. We may be a small community, but the impact that Chris has made reminds us it truly takes a village to love and care for one another.”
The message for many Sunday was to live life like Chris did.
“Capt. Truman, you have selflessly given your life for the good of your fellow man. Your tasks on Earth are completed. Your duties well done. You may return to quarters. Rest in peace brother,” Yandre said. “We’ll take it from here.”
Andy Brinkmann, a friend and fellow fire department member, shared a letter he wrote to Chris.
“You always made a point to help every single person you came into contact with,” he wrote. “The Lake Mills Fire Department is better because of your presence. You said you would work as hard as you could to bring us closer together as a department. As tragic as this has been, Chris, you’ve completed that task. You’ve brought us closer. You’ve brought this community closer.”
Truman was a leader and friend to members of the department, he noted.
“You’ve done a great job and no longer need to lead us,” he said. “Rest easy sir. We will take it from here.”
Lake Mills Police Chief Mick Selck was a good friend of Truman’s. He said it’s been a tough week, but a card from his 11-year-old son helped him find the right words to say.
“I selfishly thought I was the only one who knew what a great guy he was,” Selck said. “I selfishly believed I was the only one whose day was brightened by his presence. I thought I was the only one whose problems he listened to,.
“After he tragically died, I found out how wrong I was.”
Selck said the outpouring of love from around the state has been overwhelming.
“He was a great man. He was my friend and I loved him very much, and I, along with many others, will miss him very much,” he said.
Selck encouraged others to not be angry about what happened.
“It’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to want to assign blame and want accountability,” he said. “But anger, although a natural emotion, is wasted energy. It can destroy you, make you bitter and resentful. I ask you to take that energy and turn it into something positive in Chris’ name. Do one good deed in his honor, join a civic group, give a donation, help an elderly neighbor or friend, but pay it forward because that is how you honor a man like Chris Truman.”
Selck also advised, “Tell people how you feel about them because you never know when the last time you will see them is. Put aside your petty differences. Life is too short.”
Fellow firefighter Josh Trumm recalled when he and Truman rescued a cat from a tree in 2017. The cat had been there three days.
“When we got there and I said the cat will come down when it’s ready, he told me, ‘turn around and look in that window.’ I saw three young faces who saw the fire department show up because they were worried about this cat,” Trumm said. “He wanted to show these three young kids that we are here. We are present, and we want to serve. How would it look if the fire department came and said it will come down on its own? That was Chris’ character. It doesn’t matter how silly. It was important to somebody, so it was important to Chris.”
Joel Theder, also a firefighter and friend said, he will miss not seeing Truman ride up to the fire station on his riding lawn mower in the summer to answer a fire call.
“It will be very difficult for me and his brothers,” he said. “We will get on that truck and we will go out and we will provide the service to this community that they deserve, but also that would make our brother Chris proud.”
Family friend and fellow fire Capt. Mark Bentheimer reflected on the meaning of courage, duty and, honor on the Maltese cross, the symbol of the fire service.
“When I was a rookie firefighter, those were only words to me. I understood courage, but little else. Chris has taught me the meaning of those words,” he shared.
“You wear the uniform to honor those who have gone before you,” Bentheimer continued. “Today, he teaches me why honor is on that cross. Today, I wear the uniform to honor you, my friend, my brother.”
The desire to help often puts firefighters’ lives on the line, said the Rev. Dave Sobek, fire department chaplain.
“For Christopher, all people were his friends. Some were friends he hadn’t met yet,” Sobek said.
Helping was who Truman was.
“He said, ‘It’s who I am. It’s what I do,” the chaplain said, adding that Truman was much more than a firefighter.
A bell signaled the end of Truman’s duty to the fire service. The signal of three bells, three times each rang through the school gymnasium.
“To Capt. Chris Truman, who has selflessly given his life for his fellow man, his tasks completed, his duties well done. To our comrade, his last alarm. Chris is going home,” a member of the honor guard said.
A final call went out for Capt. Chris Truman Sunday at 16:17 hours.
“Chris, the members of the Lake Mills Fire Department and the citizens of the communities of which you served bid you farewell and thank you for your 15 years of unselfish service and dedication. Today, you answered God’s final page. Well done. good and faithful servant. Capt. Chris Truman has been reassigned to the Lord’s squad of heroes. Today, we honor you. You will never be forgotten. Go in peace.”
According to the Monona Police Department, a woman lost control of her vehicle on eastbound U.S. Highway 12 on the Yahara River bridge just before 7 p.m. She had gotten out of her vehicle when Truman, who was off duty, saw she needed assistance and pulled up behind the vehicle, with his emergency lights flashing.
Truman told the woman to get back into her vehicle, which she did. Then a vehicle driven by Samuel Cremers, a 28-year-old Dodgeville man, reportedly swerved into the emergency lane and struck Truman and the vehicle at the same time.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Cremers’ preliminary alcohol breath test measured .079, just below the legal limit of .08, according to Shaun O’Connell, Cremers’ attorney. He cautioned that although the test “gives us some indication,” it is not admissible in court, and the real measure will be the results of Cremers’ blood test.
Cremers was arrested on a tentative charge of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and released from custody on a $5,000 signature bond. He will appear in court next on March 7.