In Honor Of A Firefighter

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

By Charlie

I am a firefighter. In September of 2009 I was one of the thousands of firefighters sent to the “Station Fire” that ravaged most of the Angeles National Forest and, sadly, took the lives of 2 fellow firefighters. This is a story of another retired firefighter lost that day and the final hours of his life.

On September 1st my engine company was part of a strike team assigned to structure protection for some homes in the foothills in the community of Juniper Hills. These homes were rather spread out and each fire truck was assigned to a home along the road. As we approached the home we were assigned to protect we saw that it was owned by a firefighter. We assumed that the house would have good weed compliance and adequate defensible space around it because if anyone would be aware of its importance, it would be a firefighter.

As we approached the home, we were met by a woman (and her daughters) who was the wife of the firefighter who lived there. She informed us that her husband, a retired firefighter, was in the house under hospice care in the final stages of cancer and other medical problems. She asked us if she had to evacuate. We knew that was inevitable and we told her we would do whatever we could for her and her family.

We helped them load their belongings and got the house prepared for the possible arrival of the fire. Finally the time came for them to leave. Her husband Mike needed to be taken to the car as he was basically unconscious. My partner and I volunteered to take him to the car. We were offered his wheelchair but we felt that, as a firefighter, it would be our honor to carry him to the vehicle. As we carried him we assured him that his wife and daughters were safe and that we would be there to protect his home of over 40 years. We placed him in the car and reassured him once again and made sure he was as comfortable as possible, and put on his seatbelt.

One of his daughters stayed behind with us as her mother drove her dad to their other daughters’ house.

A few hours later the daughter got a phone call from her mother that her dad, Mike, had just died.

Shortly after the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center Mike had erected a flagpole in his yard and had a flag flying from it since. That morning we were there, his daughter removed the old tattered flag and replaced it with a nice, crisp new one. Upon hearing of Mike’s passing, my partner asked if he could lower the flag to half-staff. Not only for Mike, but for the other two firefighters who were lost. They have yet to raise it to full staff.

I’m not very religious in the true sense of the word but I do feel a certain spirituality that events happen for a reason. It could have been any of hundreds of fire trucks at the fire that could have been assigned to Mike’s house. That responsibility fell to my crew. It was our honor to escort Mike from his home for what would prove to be the last time. How ironic that, after a 30+ year career as a firefighter, he would be leaving his home for the last time in the face of what would become the largest fire in the history of Los Angeles County.

Mike stayed alive long enough to know that we would be there for his family when he was unable to be. As we carried him to the car we gave him permission to go and that his family would be taken care of.

I was deeply moved by the graciousness of Mike’s family in the face of some very difficult moments. They were just as concerned about our needs and safety as we were about theirs.

It’s times like these that reinforce the good that still exists in this world that all too often gets overlooked.