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HOMER — About 11:45 a.m. Monday, an emergency alert tone for the Homer Township Fire Protection District came over the radio.
"This is the final call for Firefighter Mike Cummins, who dedicated 31 years to the fire service," said a dispatcher from METCAD, her voice reverberating from the radios of firefighters standing at attention outside the Homer New Life Church of Faith.
"The Homer fire chief and department members thank him for his service to the community," the dispatcher continued. "We'll never forget his honor, courage and duty. May he rest in peace."
Dozens of fire, police and emergency medical personnel from Champaign, Vermilion and Piatt counties gathered at the church to say goodbye and pay their respects to Mr. Cummins, who was remembered as a loving husband, father and grandfather; an avid fisherman; and a dedicated volunteer firefighter for Homer and other communities.
The 46-year-old Homer man was on his way home from a medical call when he suffered his own medical problem and died early Wednesday morning. He was 46.
Dressed in uniform, firefighters filed into the sanctuary and took their seats across the aisle from Mr. Cummins wife, Cindy, and friends and relatives. Mr. Cummins' black helmet, bearing No. 17, and his turnout gear sat at the front of the room.
"There's no way to express the gratitude to the people in this town" and others who have reached out and expressed their condolences, said Joe Cummins, Mr. Cummins' older cousin.
"Last night, 164 firefighters saluted him at his casket. That's huge," he said, his voice choked with emotion.
Pastor Dave Ashby, the chaplain for the Champaign and Urbana firefighters and senior pastor of Trinity Community Fellowship in Farmer City, officiated the service with Pastor C.W. Greer of the Homer church.
Ashby confessed that he never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Cummins. But after talking with his loved ones over the weekend, he said it became apparent that a few words could best describe him — fisherman, family man and firefighter.
"He only lived 46 years," Ashby said, sharing the words of one relative, "but he got more out of life than anyone else. ... And fishing was his life."
Ashby said Mr. Cummins' children were technically his stepchildren.
But "Mike looked at y'all as his kids. He loved you like you were his, and he treated you like you were his."
And Cindy was the love of his life, Ashby said. On their last night together, the minister said, Mr. Cummins "bounced up and down in their bed," then repeated to his wife, "Hello, beautiful."
Then a tone from his radio sounded late at night.
"Mike jumped up at the tone," Ashby said. Before he left, he said to his wife one last time, "Hello, beautiful. I love you."
* * * * *
Late Tuesday night, an Allerton woman drove her SUV off the side of a country road south of the village, hit an embankment and overturned. Mr. Cummins went to the call even though he wasn't feeling well.
"He was doing his job. He was following through because he was committed," Ashby said, adding Mr. Cummins became a volunteer firefighter as a teen and got involved in the Homer department about 21/2 years ago on the day he met Chief Don Happ.
Ashby joked that as soon as Mr. Cummins learned that Happ was involved in the local fire department, that's all the two men talked about.
"He was all about the fire service," the minister said.
"If you needed anything, Mike would get it done," he said, recalling Happ's words. "He'd take care of it."
He said Mr. Cummins never missed a training and rarely missed a call. He was the last one to leave on a department work day, and he loved to volunteer.
"He loved driving the tanker in the parade," Ashby said.
The woman in the accident wasn't seriously injured. But back in town, Mr. Cummins passed out behind the wheel of his truck and hit a parked car, pushing it into an SUV and the SUV into another parked car. His truck also hit a concrete flower pot at the southeast corner of the intersection of Main and First streets before coming to a stop.
Mr. Cummins was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, where he died at 1:52 a.m. Wednesday.
* * * * *
On Monday, a large American flag hung from ladder trucks from the Savoy and Tuscola fire departments in that same intersection.
At the end of the service, two bagpipers played "Amazing Grace" and then "Going Home," as fellow firefighters placed Mr. Cummins' casket in the back of the Homer Fire and Rescue truck, draped with black cloth. After his last call, a funeral procession made its way from the church through town down Main Street and under the large flag.
There, more firefighters stood at attention and saluted Mr. Cummins' casket as it drove by. A number of residents also stood at both sides of the road.
"I didn't know him, but I wanted to pay my respects and show support to our fire department," said Carol Wright, who was holding an American flag.
"We're a tight-knit community, and we come together to support each other," Bonnie Miller — wife of Homer's assistant fire chief, Bub Miller — said as she watched the fire and rescue truck pause in front of the Homer fire station before heading on to Old Homer Cemetery, Mr. Cummins' final resting place.
Firefighters put one last message for their fallen brother on their sign out front: "RIP, Firefighter Mike Cummins. We got it from here."