|Agency||Peoria Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||36 to 40|
|Date of Birth||6/27/1944|
|Date of Death||1/23/1983|
|Cause of Death||Struck by object|
|Nature of Death||Trauma|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations , Hose operations|
Vernon A. “Butch” Gudat was born on June 27, 1944, and entered the fire service on June 19, 1967. Captain Gudat served for 16 years in the high-risk valley districts in and around Peoria. He was a firefighter’s firefighter, as fire crews always felt a little more secure at a fire with Butch there. They knew he would be where the work was and make a rescue without regard for his own safety. On January 23, 1983, at the age of 38, Captain Gudat was killed by a collapsing brick wall while fighting an apartment fire at 717-719 Main Street, Peoria.
On January 22, 1983, the Peoria Fire Department received Box Alarm 25, after callers reported a lot of smoke in the area of Main and Perry Streets. Upon arrival the firefighters encountered a large volume of fire in the brick structure at 717-719 Main Street and extra alarms were immediately sounded. Captain Gudat’s machine, Engine 10, set up in the rear of the building along with Truck 3. The crew of Truck 3 was operating in the aerial platform over Captain Gudat’s position. On the ground, Captain Gudat called to firefighter Mike Morrow to assist him in advancing a hose line to an exposed wall, when the rear wall suddenly started to fall outward.
As the men on the platform of Truck 3 frantically screamed for them to run, Captain Gudat had just enough time to guide firefighter Morrow under a wall opening, before the wall struck them. Firefighters and police hurried to their aid and dug them out from under the burning bricks and debris. A window section of the wall fell around firefighter Morrow, probably saving his life, as he only suffered a broken collar bone and fractured left ankle, along with lacerations and bruises. Captain Gudat suffered massive head injuries and was pronounced dead at Methodist Center at 2:50 a.m. on January 23, 1983. The fire was a 4-11 alarm with a large dollar loss. Investigators determined arson as the cause, and the case remains open.
Captain Gudat was survived by his parents of Peoria, one son, Michael Ray Gudat, of Hanna City, one daughter, Michele Rene Gudat, of Hanna City, and one sister, Patricia Shernak, of Peoria. Gudat had served several terms as an officer of the Peoria Firefighters Club, and two years as chairman of the Firemen’s Ball which raised money for the Toys for Tots program.
Funeral services were held at Davidson-Fulton Woodland Chapel on January 26, 1983, with Reverend W.F. Neumann officiating. There was a formal fire department ceremony with firefighters from around the nation in attendance. Engine 10 was draped in black and carried the casket while leading the funeral procession through the city streets. Citizens stopped and stood in respect at each block along the 10-mile route.
Summary by Marty Baker and Doug Brignall, Peoria Fire Department