OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. — When Chief Ed Switalski’s funeral procession passes through the streets of Kalamazoo County Wednesday morning many law enforcement officials are expected to stand outside and salute as it passes by. It's what Capt. Kevin Thompson will see firsthand. He'll be riding on the engine carrying his friend's casket.
“He touched so many people,” said Capt. Thompson of the Comstock Township Fire Department. “It was just Ed’s outgoing personality. He was a friend to everybody.”
Thompson met Chief Switalski when he first arrived in 2013 from Plesantview, Ill where he was a battalion chief. The moment they met they hit it off Thompson said. He considered Chief Switalski to be a dedicated friend who helped him with anything he asked, through tough times personally and completing his deck at home.
“He’s, I would say, one of my best friends here,” said Capt. Thompson. “It’s extra tough but we’re here for the family: my fire family and his family. And we’re getting through it together.”
Fire officials from around the state gathered Tuesday at Langeland Funeral home for Chief Switalski’s public visitation. He was killed last week while investigating a crash on I-94. The Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office said he was hit from behind and died on impact. Days later, hundreds of people drove in from all over to pay their respects to the family.
“We’ve had calls from Iowa and Wisconsin,” said Mark Barnes, president of the Kalamazoo County Fire Association. “I don’t have a list of exactly who’s here but we know they’re farther than Illinois.”
Barnes and Chief Switalski were friends too, he said. They’d been friends since he came to Comstock. Now, he spends his time comforting his family and the crew at the fire station.
“A number of those members of the Comstock fire department were at the scene,” said Barnes about the night Chief Switalski died. “They witnessed things they did not want to see. And it's going to be very difficult to erase some of those [memories]. Maybe they’ll never go away.”
Barnes said a few at the station have taken time off to cope. However they’re expected to be at the funeral Wednesday morning at the Wings Event Center, among the 400 personnel fro 84 departments in and out of the state.
“We just got to keep our heads up and move forward,” said Capt. Thompson.