Biden memorializes 2 firefighters for their courage
Thousands of uniformed firefighters gathered Saturday for a memorial service at Dodger Stadium to honor two firefighters killed in the massive wildfire burning in the Angeles National Forest.
Fire Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, and Firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 34, of Palmdale, “served with dedication, courage and, during their last alarm, with absolute bravery and selflessness,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Deputy John Tripp said at the service.
The ceremony lasted a little over two hours, ending with eight firefighting helicopters thundering over the stadium, a fire captain playing taps on a trumpet in centerfield and the Pipes and Drums of California Professional Firefighters playing “Amazing Grace.”
Hall and Quinones were killed Aug. 30 when their truck slipped off a winding dirt road high in the Angeles National Forest. Officials believe the truck might have been overrun by flames from the wildfire, dubbed the Station fire, which has burned 250 square miles and has destroyed more than 80 dwellings.
Now an estimated 81% contained, it is the largest fire in modern Los Angeles County history.
Though the incident is still under investigation, officials believe that Hall and Quinones may have ordered dozens of people to seek shelter while they fought through flames to search for an escape route.
“There are still acts that go above and beyond duty,” Vice President Joe Biden told the audience as Secret Service agents stood on the top steps of the dugouts and scanned the crowd. “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.”
Fire crews from as far away as New York City and Worcester, Mass., came to attend the service, said L.A. County Fire Capt. Frank Garrido.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also praised the firefighters’ courage, noting that most people feel a “primal instinct” to run from danger.
“Their final moments were on duty, standing for us all. ... They stayed and they did battle,” Schwarzenegger said.
Biden met privately with each family before the service and then gave a 13-minute memorial speech in which he veered from his prepared remarks repeatedly, speaking in deeply personal terms about the loss of his wife and daughter in a 1972 traffic accident.
“There is very little we can do today that is going to provide genuine solace,” Biden told the firefighters’ families. But noting the firefighting brotherhood that was in evidence at the ceremony, he promised them that eventually they would “draw strength from this, if not today, tomorrow, next week, next year.”
“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.”
The stadium was silent as Biden descended into the visitors’ dugout after his speech. Fire officials could be seen patting him on the back in the dugout; Biden watched the rest of the ceremony there.
Dodger Stadium had taken on a somber tone. Hundreds of red, yellow and green fire trucks circled the stadium, cruising under two large United States flags hanging from firefighters’ ladders. Flags lining the upper deck of the stadium were lowered to half-staff. A speaker’s platform had been set up over home plate, flanked by huge shocks of flowers and stands holding the firefighters’ helmets and boots.
"We are blind to the fact that we are all from different agencies," said U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Anthony Powers, who worked frequently with Hall. "We’re all here for the same reason -- to support the families and because we all lost somebody. ... It’s like losing a family member."
After the service, firefighters embraced and many lingered in their seats and watched a slide show of Hall and Quinones on the large screens that typically show highlights, scores and players’ statistics.
“Family is what this is,” Asst. Chief Gary Burden said on the way out. “These guys made the ultimate sacrifice and it touches every one of us to the core.”
-- Scott Gold at Dodger Stadium