California Fires Claim the Life of a Firefighter
I was just watching the news about the fire here on the west coast of Florida and Fox News gave a BREAKING NEWS REPORT: One of the fires in San Diego County has claimed the life of a firefighter and injured 2 others when they were overrun by the fire. According to Fox News this was confirmed by the California Division of Forestry.
Coming Home-Monday 11/03/03
(Novato-AP) -- The body of a Novato firefighter killed in the
Southern California wildfires will soon be returned home.
The body of fire engineer Steven Rucker will be flown to Santa
Rosa tomorrow (Monday) by the California Air National Guard.
The body will then be escorted to Novato in a procession of
public safety vehicles.
A memorial service for Rucker is being planned for November 12th
at the Marin County Civic Center.
JUST NEEDED TO ADD MY 2 CENTS WORTH
Rest in Peace My Brother.
Firefighter hailed from near and far
1,500 cohorts attend Steve Rucker's San Rafael memorial
Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer Thursday, November 13, 2003
Steve Rucker never wanted to be anything but a firefighter.
It was a dream that began when he was 5 years old and never missed an episode of the 1970s firefighting drama "Emergency." It continued as a young man whose first date with the woman he would later marry ended with a trip to the local firehouse.
Nothing was going to stop him from fulfilling his goal, even his bad eyesight. When his vision wasn't quite good enough to make the cut at the Novato Fire Protection District, he spent $8,000 on surgery to have his eyes fixed.
"I never knew anyone who wanted to be a firefighter as much as Steve," said Novato Fire Chief Jeffrey Meston, who took Rucker under his wing when the eager young recruit joined the force 11 years ago. "Steve lived and breathed his dream."
It was a dream that exacted the ultimate price. Steven Liss Rucker was 38 when he died Oct. 29 on the porch of a house he was struggling to save from the biggest wildfire in California history, the Cedar Fire in San Diego County.
On Wednesday, two weeks to the day after Rucker's death, Meston eulogized "the Ruckster" during a memorial at the Marin Civic Center that drew more than 1,500 firefighters, some from as far as New York City. Few had ever met Rucker,
but it didn't matter. He was a firefighter, they said, and that made him a brother.
"When one of us falls, we all fall," said Ron Owens of the Oceanside Fire Department in San Diego County. "We all feel it. We're all one department."
More than 400 fire trucks from throughout California rolled down Avenue of the Flags to the Civic Center. One by one, firefighters wearing dress blues and black bands over their badges filed past the fire truck to which Rucker was assigned to when he died -- Engine 6162 -- and into Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
It took 45 minutes to get them all inside. When the last seat was filled, hundreds more were ushered into a nearby exhibit hall to watch on closed- circuit television.
Outside the auditorium, an honor guard of firefighters -- backs straight, chins out and gloved hands at their sides -- flanked the truck and a large portrait of Rucker, surrounded by roses. Few of them could bring themselves to do more than glance at the truck, still streaked with soot from the fire that scorched its paint and melted its taillights.
Many of them had stared down the same fire that took Rucker's life and those of 13 others -- a fire that, though contained, continues to burn -- and knew that, but for a twist of fate, it might have been them being memorialized.
"You think about what happened," said Gary Snyder of the Reno Fire Department, which sent 24 firefighters to the Southern California fires. "It sends chills down my spine. One mistake, one bad judgment ... it could have been any one of us."
For some, the emotions of the memorial were especially painful.
"I can't go inside," said Danny Noonan, a firefighter from Engine 33, Company 9 in New York City. Ten men from his company were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was one of a dozen FDNY members who came to pay tribute to Rucker.
"I can't look at the children. I can't look at the family.," Noonan said. "I just can't."
The two-hour service was a somber affair broken by occasional laughter as friends, colleagues and dignitaries eulogized Rucker as a fearless firefighter,
loving husband and doting father. Rucker's wife, Catherine, and his two children, 7-year-old Kersten and 2-year-old Wesley, watched from the front of the auditorium.
"Cathy," said Gov. Gray Davis, addressing Rucker's wife from a stage awash in photographs of the fallen firefighter, mementos and his firefighting gear, "I want you to know that everyone in California is mourning with you today. Steve Rucker embodied the best values our nation has to offer: courage, honor and compassion."
Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger attended but did not speak.
Others called Rucker a brave but modest man and a hero who never would have thought the term applied to him.
"Steve was probably the most decent and straightforward man I've ever met, " Meston said.
Rucker's passion for firefighting, Meston said, was born of a heartfelt desire to help people. He was the type of man who was the first to volunteer for a job and the last to leave, someone who kept his cool in even the most trying circumstances.
Maybe that was because he had a lot of kid in him. The slightly heavyset guy with burly arms and a receding hairline was a proud member of the Looney Tunes Cartoon Club -- "he always said it was for the kids," Meston said.
Rucker had a soft spot for children. Every year he led the Novato department's Toys for Tots program -- always dressing up as an elf -- and bought a pickup truck he named "Big Red" just to distribute toys during the holidays.
So deep was his love of children, and his desire to help people, that his son's middle name is Evan, after a 10-year-old boy Rucker was unable to save.
John Hawkins, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry,
was the incident commander for the Cedar Fire and the man on whose watch Rucker died. He described how Rucker and three other Novato firefighters fought to save a house on a street that locals have since taken to calling "Rucker Ridge."
Two of those men suffered minor injuries; the third, Capt. Doug McDonald, remains hospitalized with burns over 18 percent of his body.
Rucker knew the risk he took when he volunteered to go to San Diego, and he accepted it without hesitation, Hawkins said.
And that, he said, makes Steve Rucker a hero.
"There's no better job than living your dream," Hawkins said. "Steve Rucker, thank you for being our hero and for living the dream."
E-mail Chuck Squatriglia at firstname.lastname@example.org.