Mayor Richard Daley has known a number of firefighters throughout his lifetime, but the deaths of firefighters Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer on Wednesday seemed to hit him especially hard.
Ankum was the husband of one of Daley's executive assistants.
"I knew Corey very well. I knew his family. He was a wonderful father, husband and friend, and he loved the fire department. That's all he wanted to talk about. [He was] formerly a police officer but he wanted to become a fireman," Daley said after cutting short a meeting out east with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Ankum's wife, Demeka Ankum, has served the mayor for the last 10 years, said Daley press secretary Jackie Heard. Through tears, Daley called the firefighter's wife one of his "closest assistants, a true friend and a confidante."
Heard said Daley had known 34-year-old Corey Ankum for about the last five years and last saw him Friday at a staff Christmas Party. The Ankum family -- Corey, Demeka, their two daughters and 1-year-old son -- were scheduled to sit down for pictures with the mayor on Thursday.
"He loved his wife so dearly. It's ridiculous. His kids, his son, you don't get a better love than that," said Ankum's brother, Gerald Glover.
Glover said his brother worked as a police officer for three years before moving over to the fire department fewer than two years ago. Glover has been a firefighter for the last 25 years. The brothers worked in the same firehouse.
"He was on third shift and I'm on second shift, said Glover.
Away from the firehouse, the brothers were close. Glover said Ankum helped him buy a house right across the street from his.
"There was nothing you couldn't ask for him to do that he wouldn't do," recalling how his brother would mow neighbors' lawns in the summertime, provide rides to his elderly neighbors when they needed it and watched their houses while they were gone.
For Christmas, Ankum was planning on buying a truck for his wife. He was going to wrap it in a bow and keep it stored at his brother's house until Saturday.
Another firefighter, Steven Ellerson, suffered injuries to his eyes while trying to help Ankum.
"He said he was in the fire and when the roof collapsed, he heard the guy calling. And he didn't want to leave him in there, so he cut -- tried to cut the fireman's mask off and was trying to save him and that's how he got his eyes injured because I think he took his gas mask [off] to try to give the other fireman his air," said Ellerson's brother, Maurice Matthews.
"They had to make him come out because he didn't want to leave the other fireman in there. Honestly, these guys give their lives on a regular basis," he said.
Also killed Wednesday was 47-year-old Edward Stringer. Originally from Arkansas, he'd been with the fire department for 12 years and had two adult children.
"I had the privilege today to visit with the Stringer family. I say 'privilege' because I see first-hand the pride and love that this family had for their father, their husband and their brother," said Chicago Fire Department Union Local 2 President Tom Ryan.
Friends and neighbors said Stringer was a helpful man who loved his job.
"His favorite saying was, 'People make fun of me because most people are running away from a burning building, and I'm the one running in.' He loved his job, he would do anything," a former girlfriend, Michelle Field, told the Chicago Tribune.
Two Chicago police squads were parked outside the Stringer home Wednesday evening. Nearby, a flag flew at half-staff. Holiday decorations included an inflatable Santa Claus on a motorcycle.
"I understand their pain, especially this close to Christmas," said Janet Smith, who lives across the street. She said she lost her husband recently in Afghanistan.
"It's horrible. They're all heroes," she said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.