KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Emily Switalski tried her best to hold back the tears. But she simply couldn’t. She cried and wiped her eyes as she spoke at Fire Chief Ed Switalski’s funeral, known to her as dad.
“When I sat down to write this, I honestly did not know where to begin,” said Switalski to hundreds of people at the Wings Event Center. “There’s so many things I can say about my dad.”
Like how he was their biggest supporter when she and her sister were on their school’s cheer team, Switalski said. And how he’d take them to Girl Scouts camp or watch Western Michigan football games together. The girls didn’t take to sports but they watched and cheered for their dad.
“He still instilled his love of the Cubs in us,” said Switalski standing next to her sister at the podium. “I’m happy to say he was finally able to see them win the World Series and I got to experience the excitement of that with him by going to the victory parade.”
Chief Ed, as everyone called him, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. It was his dream to become a fireman, said his friend and Portage Public Safety chaplain Ken Hovenkamp. He fulfilled that dream becoming a battalion chief in Pleseantview, IL and then a chief in Comstock, MI in 2013. He lived out his dream job because he loved to help people.
“He was deeply committed to his community and he would give the shirt off his back to any stranger in need,” said Hovenkamp. “In fact he gave his kidney to his nephew who was in need of a transplant.”
Last Wednesday, Chief Ed’s dream was cut short. He was investigating a crash on I-94 when a passing vehicle hit him from behind and killed him instantly. According to the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, first responders and firefighters from his Comstock station rushed to him and tried to resuscitate him. However their efforts were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Hovenkamp said a prayer for Chief Ed as he was laid on the stretcher and was carried into the ambulance with an American flag draped over him.
“It was almost like the Red Sea was parting as the chief was brought down between those lines to the rear of the ambulance,” said Hovenkamp about the firefighters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in salute that night. “Every person standing in respect for the fallen chief.”
Many at the Comstock fire department took extra days off to cope with the loss. However, all showed up for his funeral to pay their respects to the family and say their final good-bye.
“I am honored to say that my dad is Ed Switalski,” said Emily. “Before he went on every call, my mom, my sister and I would always say ‘I love you, be safe.’ And those words were the last words I was ever able to say to him."