EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) --- Hundreds of firefighters gathered for the memorial of a fallen Eau Claire firefighter who lost her battle to cancer.
Eau Claire ladder trucks formed an arch in front of the Plaza Hotel as 400 firefighters from across Wisconsin and Minnesota filled the seats inside where Eau Claire firefighter paramedic and engineer Denise Waterman’s memorial took place Tuesday afternoon and evening.
Just eight weeks ago, Waterman found out she had colon cancer. She died last week after a tough battle.
Eau Claire Fire Department crews say Waterman died in the line of duty, because like all firefighters, the nature of her job put her at a higher risk of getting cancer.
Crew members like Bob Haller said he had the privilege of working alongside Waterman in Eau Claire.
“She was a very caring person. We were on some pretty critical calls before in the past,” said Haller. Her professionalism, how she cared for people with the empathy that came along with her career and how she handled people was unbelievable.”
Besides her love for her job and the care she showed to her patients, Haller said he shared many laughs with Waterman over the 16 years she worked with the fire department.
“She loved her horses and when it came to mow the lawns and stuff around the station, it was kind of comical because she'd always say how she wanted to bring her horses to do the lawns at the station because she never cared for doing the lawn mower there,” said Haller.
Family, friends and firefighters filled the room as the memorial and procession began at 4 p.m.
“It's a big family, a group, even if you don’t know who Denise was, we're all brothers and sisters together and we care for one another a lot,” said firefighter EMT Jeff Patrow.
Crew member say when you lose one of your own, it's a firefighter's instinct to come together, like they did over the weekend. About a dozen firefighters ran in the Eau Claire Marathon in full gear for Waterman.
“It was hard at the end carrying her coat across the finish line,” said Patrow.
Firefighter paramedic Gunderson ran in the race on Sunday too. He said the donations from the marathon will go into the Eau Claire Firefighters Charity which coincidentally became an official charity last week. The funds from the marathon will go towards cancer research.
“Firefighters have a greater risk of cancer, so we can we figure we go through a little pain and suffering ourselves, nowhere near what our fellow firefighter Denise went through,” said Gunderson. “She was great to everyone she worked with, everyone she came in contact with at the city of Eau Claire.”
Waterman’s paintings of horses and colorful pieces of art were displayed throughout the memorial room for all to see. Her saddle, boots and gloves were shown off at the front, sharing her hobby with the roomful of firefighters who had never met her before. At the end of the memorial, her fire helmet, monogrammed coat with ‘D. Waterman’ and suit will go home with her husband Greg.
“I hope we remember her memories as a true fighter in that sense, and it’s something we're going to carry on in our hearts forever as Eau Claire firefighters,” said Haller. “I think today it'll be a brief day of sadness, but knowing Denise and knowing what her wishes were, that we are going to celebrate her life and make the most of a beautiful day.”