Jim Kreher was having coffee the morning of Oct. 25, 1995, about a block away from where a horrific accident had happened.
At 7:11 a.m., a commuter train slammed into the back of a school bus at Route 14 and Algonquin Road. Seven children were killed at the intersection, now called “Seven Angels Crossing.”
Kreher, who was there in less than a minute, was the incident commander at the scene for the Fox River Grove Fire Department, where he is deputy chief.
At the time, he also worked as a systems technician for AT&T. He didn’t even think about being late for work until that afternoon.
Afterward, he and his brother, Fire Chief Robert Kreher, would travel around the state giving presentations explaining how such a small fire department handled such a big incident.
“We actually had to stop because it got to be too much,” he said. “It still affects me to this day.”
It’s strange for Kreher to go to Cary-Grove High School, where he teaches CPR to sophomores, and realize that they weren’t even born yet when the accident happened.
It’s such a part of the town’s history, he said.
“Emotionally, the littlest things might make me think about it,” he said.
Although Kreher should be recognized for his work that day, he went above and beyond both before and after that tragedy.
Kreher began his career in fire service in high school, when some neighbors who were volunteer firefighters asked whether he wanted to get involved. He said “sure” and now has been with Fox River Grove Fire for more than 30 years.
He serves as an appointed director for the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to fire safety and burn prevention through public education. Each year at YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside, the organization runs Camp “I Am Me,” providing a nonjudgmental, safe environment for children who are burn survivors.
Kreher also helps run an annual golf outing to support that camp, as well as scholarships.
He also serves as a representative for the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association and participates in Operation North Pole, in which children suffering from a life-threatening illness ride on the “Polar Express.”
“Having served on our department for 30-plus years has not lessened his passion for life and serving those in need,” EMT/firefighter Kimberly Holland said. “It is an honor to work with him.”
Firefighters and paramedics don’t expect a thank you, but when they get one, it means a lot, Kreher said.
“We always try to teach our young guys about being compassionate toward people,” he said. “A little hug or anything else we can do for that matter may help, that’s why we’re here.”
The Kreher lowdown
Who is he? Deputy chief at Fox River Grove Fire Department.
Hometown: Fox River Grove
Family: Wife of almost 30 years, Angie; two sons; one grandson
Favorite TV show: “Chicago Fire”