Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thousands honor two fallen firefighters in memorial service at Dodger Stadium

memorial service at Dodger's Stadium on Saturday for the two firefighters killed in a wildfire high in the Angeles National Forest. A group of the Pasadena guys met for breakfast first so we could caravan down together.

When we got to the stadium hundreds of firetrucks passed under two enormous American flags hanging from ladders and encircled the stadium two to three deep. The strong firefighting brotherhood was evident at every turn. Just to watch the outpouring of all the firefighters from around the nation, was unbelievably touching. It shows what a strong family they are and how they really do come out and make sure that their brothers are remembered.

On a sun splashed morning, the fire service gathered to say good bye to the two of its finest … men who were, by any measure of the word, heroes.

Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, and Firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 34, of Palmdale, died Aug. 30 when their truck plunged 800 feet into a ravine.
Officials believe Hall and Quinones ordered dozens of people to seek shelter while they fought through flames to search for an escape route from their remote mountain camp. It is believed the truck might have been overrun by flames from the wildfire.

"There are still acts that go above and beyond duty," Vice President Joe Biden told the audience at the memorial. "Two men tell others to hunker down and race out to find a way out -- it is above and beyond the call of duty. That's real courage."

Handing over the reins of Dodger Stadium to the Fire Department -- for free, incidentally -- made for some unusual touches.

Firefighters hauled in bundles of 50-foot sections of hose, which were fashioned into bunting and hung from the loge level. They also devised their own version of the military's "missing man" flyover formation, sending eight helicopters thundering over the stadium, at least two of which were fresh from water drops in the hills. One of the helicopters spun sharply away from the others.

The section of the scoreboard where umpires' uniform numbers are typically displayed during games was used instead to display the number "16." Hall had worked for eight years and Quinones for four years at Camp 16, a remote prison where they helped supervise inmates trained in wilderness protection.

More than 50 inmates were among those Hall and Quinones helped protect in the moments before the firefighters were killed -- and some of them were in the stands Saturday, clad in their orange prison jumpsuits.

LA Co. FFs Local 1014 Pres. Dave Gillotte, talking of fallen brothers' commitment to helping inmate crews they led: "Ted and Arnie didn't just teach the men of Camp 16 to fight fires. They taught them to be better humans."

Among those in attendance were several firefighters who raced through flames in an attempt to rescue Hall and Quinones, the heat on the hillside so intense it burned the soles of their boots. Some county firefighters we spoke with said that they were able to attend the service only because firefighters from other agencies, including the city of Los Angeles and Orange County, volunteered to staff their stations Saturday morning.

To demonstrate their mourning, most drivers used black electrical tape to slash through the call numbers painted on the sides of trucks: No. 33, from Lancaster; No. 164, from Huntington Park; No. 421, from Compton. Although a crowd estimate was not available, the county had received confirmations from 15,000 firefighters, including crews from New York City, Canada, and Worcester, Mass. Each firefighter had a black ribbon around their badge.

"We are blind to the fact that we are all from different agencies," said U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Anthony Powers. "We're all here for the same reason -- to support the families and because we all lost somebody."

The deaths of Hall and Quinones are considered homicides because the cause of the Station fire -- the largest in modern Los Angeles County history, at 250 square miles -- has been attributed to arson. The fire is expected to be fully contained by Tuesday, though it was still burning Saturday above Sierra Madre and Monrovia, "just over the hills behind me," as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put it as he spoke at the memorial. Evidence found along the Angeles Crest Highway north of La Canada Flintridge included incendiary material of a type officials have not identified. A total of $150,000 in reward money has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for starting the blaze.

Speaking at a dais over home plate, flanked by shocks of flowers and stands holding the firefighters' helmets and boots, county Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman quoted from the Bruce Springsteen song "You're Missing," which is associated with the Sept. 11 tragedy: "Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall; Mama's in the kitchen, baby and all. . . . . But you're missing."

"Our brothers," Freeman said, "are missing."

Biden gave a 13-minute speech in which he veered from his prepared remarks, speaking in deeply personal terms about the loss of his wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident.

"There is very little we can do today that is going to provide genuine solace," Biden told the families. Eventually, he promised them, the memory of Hall and Quinones "will bring a smile to your face rather than a tear to your eye."

"I assure you that day will come," he said. "I guarantee it."

Biden spoke of the overuse of the term ‘hero’ and how firefighters did not believe that they readily fit the definition. Biden said, "There's a saying that all men are created equal but then a few become firefighters."

“We all say things like, ‘We never forget.’ These guys mean it,” he said, gesturing to the firefighters in the crowd. “They will never forget -- any time, any problem, under any circumstances, you will have a family bigger than your own to go to.” “Men like Ted and Arnie have few equals. We take comfort in recognizing they have taken a place with the immortals, and the [county] of Los Angeles has two more watching over them.”

Hall and Quinones were remembered as heroes, but also as very different men -- the former a trusty veteran who served as a mentor to younger firefighters; the latter a force of nature with a rock star's charisma. Hall was married and the father of two grown sons. Quinones' wife is expecting to deliver their first child any day now.

Most moving were the tributes by those closest to the two men, who themselves worked together supervising inmate fire crews at LA County’s Camp 16 in the Angeles National Forest. Captain Joseph Santero, who entered the fire service with Hall more than two decades ago, said his friend’s commitment made you want to do your job better. Ted Hall was considered the old veteran, sometimes gruff but always a professional. Santero in remembering Hall said, "Actually, lots of times, Ted wasn't a nice guy. Ted could give a verbal straightening out better than just about anybody. When you worked with Ted you wanted to do your job better because he was so good at his.” “Ted lost his life saving the lives of almost 70 firemen … I can’t think of anything more noble and courageous than that,” said Santero. “I have worked with the best and the bravest firefighters for 26 years. I can stand here in front of all of you and say without a doubt, that Captain Ted Hall was the bravest most heroic man I have ever known.”

Firefighter Spc. Rob Morales, a fellow firefighter and friend to both men, remembered Quinones fondly. "It wasn't uncommon for him to come up behind you and give you a big old hug. And then he'd hold it way past the point of comfort” As the audience laughed, Morales continued, "He'd give you that big smile and say, 'I'm Puerto Rican. That's what we do!'"

Morales was also on the mountain when they died. He saw Quinones hop in Hall's truck to get a better look at the approaching flames while the others sought shelter in Camp 16's dining hall.

"I witnessed something that most men would never dream of," Morales said, speaking about Quinones. " “I witnessed my friend deliver on every promise that he had ever made. He was brave. He was strong. He was noble. He upheld the promise that he would have my back."

Morales noted that Quinones had a tattoo that read: First in, last out.

"He was the first one in," Morales said. "And he was the last out."

The emotional ceremony lasted a little over two hours. Hall and Quinones received the sendoff befitting honored heroes with a sounding of the last alarm, then a fire captain playing taps on a trumpet in centerfield and the Pipes and Drums of California Professional Firefighters playing “Amazing Grace.”
Honor guards from more than two dozen departments from California and the nation participated.


fernvalley01 said...

A wonderful fellowship these people share. A fitting tribute to 2 heros

Desert Rose said...

Such a tradegy for these 2 brave men and their families. I cannot think of anther profession that we all should be so grateful to for all they do!

NICO Designs said...

There really are no words to describe how I feel. Thank you for taking the time to share the tribute.

Julia said...

What a tribute... Amazing. I hope their families had some comfort in seeing such a wonderful memorial of their loved ones lives.

allhorsestuff said...

WOW...glad that you posted it all like this...really got the feeling for the love and appreciation for the men that fell to the fire. Praying for the families still.

Really likie the saying about men being created equal..then some become firfighters~
A Special -special sect of hearts and be sure..HUG yours for me!

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