Memorial for Fallen Calif. FFs Draws Thousands

Posted: 09-12-2009
Updated: 09-14-2009 12:51:44 PM

Record Searchlight (Redding, California)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Two veteran firefighters who died trying to save the lives of dozens trapped in the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history were remembered as heroes Saturday in a memorial service at a sun-dappled Dodger Stadium attended by Vice President Joe Biden and others.

Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall and firefighter specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones were killed Aug. 30 when their truck plunged off a mountain road as they were trying to find an escape route for dozens of inmate-firefighters whose camp had become overrun by flames. The inmate-firefighters survived.

"Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones, you are giants in my eyes and in the eyes of all Californians," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

Schwarzenegger recounted how the firefighters, with little concern for their own safety, drove directly toward the flames looking for a way out as the fire came bearing down on dozens of prison-inmate firefighters huddled in a dining hall high in the mountains. He said he was humbled by their bravery.

The often-emotional service in the cavernous stadium took place just a few miles south of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, where the firefighters lost their lives and where their brethren are still battling to contain the wildfire.

"Just over the hills behind me, there are 3,000 firefighters who are now putting themselves in harm's way to protect us," the governor said.

The fire has burned across hundreds of square miles and destroyed more than 80 homes. It is now 84 percent contained, and is expected to be fully contained Tuesday.

The memorial service drew firefighters from across California and as far away as New York. Uniformed firefighters, some holding children on their laps or seated next to spouses and other relatives, were scattered throughout the first four levels of the stadium.

Those in the sun fanned themselves with programs as noon approached and the temperatures rose.

Biden said firefighters are quick to dismiss the term "hero" and tell others they are just people doing their jobs when they charge into flames to save lives and property. But he added that Hall and Quinones were nonetheless part of a special breed.

"There's a saying that all men are created equal but then a few become firefighters," Biden said.

Although often somber, the memorial also had a few lighthearted moments, as when firefighter specialist Rob Morales, who stood several inches shorter than the other speakers, carried a stool to stand on behind the dais at the home plate.

A close friend of both men, Morales was the foreman at the camp overrun by flames.

He remembered Quinones, 34, as "a big kid who loved to learn and he wasn't afraid to make mistakes."

"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," Morales said as the audience laughed. "He'd give you that big smile and say, 'I'm Puerto Rican. That's what we do!' "

Hall, 47, was remembered as the crusty old veteran, until you got to know him and learned that there were three loves in his life: family, job and motorcycles.

"Ted was a nice guy," Capt. John Santero, a close friend, said as he began his eulogy, then caught himself, laughed and added, "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."

Hall is survived by wife Katherine and sons Randall and Steven. Quinones is survived by his wife, Loressa, who is pregnant with their first child.

At home plate, a dais was set up and it was surrounded by several sprays of flowers, including one from Camp 16, where the firefighters died. A dozen more bouquets lined the left-centerfield wall. In front of the dais were pictures of Hall and Quinones and firefighters' equipment, including helmets.

After the last of the speakers, including friends and relatives, had delivered their remarks, several firefighting helicopters flew over the stadium in formation, a bugler played taps and drummers and bagpipers performed a mournful version of "Amazing Grace."$65489