United States Forest Service Engine 57 Memorial Service

By Jim Connors
It was with great pride, but great sadness, that Captain Jim Connors, Lieutenant Anita Paratley, Firefighter Rich Holback and Firefighter Nick Helmer represented the San Francisco Fire Department at the Engine 57 Memorial Service on November 5th, 2006, at Devore, Ca. The five crewmembers of Engine 57, USFS, were killed in the line of duty at the Esperanza Fire, which was an arson caused fire. The services were held at the Hyundai Pavilion, at Glen Helen Park. Glen Helen Park is also the site of many Command Posts and Base Operations for large wildland fires in the San Bernardino National Forest, such as the Grand Prix Fire in 2003. This was a familiar venue to many in attendance, unfortunately.

There were approximately 10000 people in attendance, representing Fire Departments from Federal, State, and Local Government agencies. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) had a dozen members in attendance, continuing their commitment to Line of Duty Death funeral and memorial services, after the support they received on 9/11.

Needless to say, it was an emotional day. Driving in, there was an honor guard of United States Forest Service employees. You could see in their eyes and on their faces the deep appreciation they had for those that came so far to pay their respects to their fallen comrades. I will never forget what I saw in these faces when they saw the San Francisco Fire Department drive in.

There were many speeches, including those by Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Diane Feinstein, as well as local members of the House of Representatives, and members of the United States Forest Service. One very irritating item about the Governor was that he was 10 minutes late. It was obvious to all, as there were two empty seats on the stage for him and his wife next to Senator Feinstein and her husband and the rest of the speakers. Come on Governor, show some respect!

The two best speeches were by Mike Dietrich, Fire Chief of San Bernardino National Forest, and Norm Walker, Division Chief, San Jacinto Ranger District, which Engine 57 was part of out of the Alandale Station. They spoke from hurting hearts, spoke at the uniformed member’s level, and made us think of those we work with that display the same work ethic and love for the job as the members of the Engine 57 crew. Chief Dietrich spoke about what makes a good Engine crew and what makes a good Engine Captain. He also closed his remarks with the haunting words of the day Engine 57 will again be saying the words “responding” on the radio. Chief Walker spoke of working with the members of the Engine 57 crew on a daily basis and what that meant. He mentioned that while this was a sad day, some humor would help us all. He told of stories of the members of the Alandale Station where Engine 57 was assigned making improvements to their station themselves. They would ask for materials and money, but Chief Walker would say there weren’t any funds available for what they wanted to do. Captain Loutzenhiser would then ask Chief Walker to come down to the station so they could talk about it. They would explain what they needed and why and offer to wash Chief Walker’s car. Chief Walker brought a smile to everyone’s face when he said that he would be driving back to his office with a clean car, and a commitment to the personnel of the Alandale Station to get them the materials they wanted.

The day we were there for the Memorial Service, Santa Ana wind conditions were in effect. One of the pictures I took was the U.S. Flag flying straight out horizontally between two aerial ladder trucks. The next day there was a 700-acre wildland fire in the immediate vicinity of the Memorial Service. There was no rest for those with heavy hearts.

My greatest disappointment with this trip had to do with the very poor response by members of the SFFD in volunteering to attend this Memorial Service for Engine 57. Only four members of our Department volunteered to go. Where were the rest of the off duty members, and those who would volunteer to go to a mutual aid request if overtime was involved? I know there was a large group of officers studying for the Captain’s exam, but there were still many who could of volunteered to honor the victims of Engine 57 and the Esperanza Fire. For those who didn’t go, but should have, and didn’t, say a prayer for the members of Engine 57 and maybe you’ll feel a little bit better.

I can’t thank Lt. Anita Paratley, Ff. Rich Holbach, and Ff. Nick Helmer enough for volunteering to make a long, arduous and emotional trip. Also, thank you to Chief Hayes-White for her commitment to the Department sending representatives to the Memorial Services, and John Hanley and Local 798 for their support.

The number “343” is part of the soul of Firefighters. Unfortunately, we now have to add “Engine 57” to our souls also.

God’s speed Engine 57,
Jim Connors
Captain, DOT


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