Provo firefighter remains unforgettable to colleagues
Saturday, January 10, 2004 - 12:00 AM
It is impossible to forget a man like Mario Guerrero.

Guerrero, a firefighter and paramedic with Provo Fire and Rescue, a part-time paramedic at Lone Peak Fire District and a part-time paramedic for Life Flight, would "always kind of bounce into the room. He'd be grinning from ear to ear," said Eric Brazell, who knew Guerrero for more than five years.

"He was bigger than life," Brazell said.

Guerrero remains unforgettable to his firefighting family one year after he was tragically killed on Jan. 10, 2003, while working an unexpected shift as a paramedic with Life Flight. The medical helicopter he was in crashed while responding to an accident. Guerrero was one of two people killed and was the first Provo firefighter to die in the line of duty.

To mark the one-year anniversary of Guerrero's death, fellow firefighters are putting together a memorial pin that will be distributed to Provo firefighters, other agencies who took care of the city during Guerrero's funeral and Guerrero's family. A bracelet will also be available, and the public can purchase the pin or bracelet through the Provo Fire Department.

The pin and bracelet are two more tokens of remembrance
capping a year of memorials.

There have been tangible
reminders -- his locker and mailbox at the Lone Peak Fire District station remain empty. There has been an anniversary to mark Guerrero's birthday on May 5 or, as firefighters know it, "cinco de Mario."

"Mario's talked about quite often around the station," said Skylar Demick, a part-time firefighter and paramedic at Lone Peak. Guerrero worked there around three years and made a significant impact "that's hard to forget," he said.

"Mario won't soon be forgotten. ... He was just a friend of everybody," Demick said.

At both Lone Peak and all of Provo's five stations, there are reminders of Guerrero hanging on the walls. In Provo's fire stations and Guerrero's home in Pleasant Grove, there are plaques that state "Gone But Not Forgotten."

At fire station 2, where Guerrero was stationed before he died, the plaque hangs above the door that leads into the garage. In the hallway leading to the door, there is a photo of Guerrero and his family taken two weeks before he died, and on the station's fire truck, " 'In Memoriam' Mario Guerrero" is posted. Pictures of Guerrero are displayed in the Lone Peak station, and his funeral program hangs on the bulletin board there.

Many of the firefighters keep on their pagers the fateful message from the night of the accident: "We just received confirmation that our brother Mario Guerrero was one of the brave men that lost their lives in the Life Flight accident. We will keep all posted on any new information."

Brazell said, "I haven't brought myself to take his name off my cell phone."

In a sense, it's like Guerrero is still here, said Chuck Shepherd, a Provo firefighter and paramedic who worked with Guerrero about 18 months before the accident, noting the empty locker at Lone Peak.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about Mario," he said.

In another sense, fellow firefighters have attended to some things Guerrero left behind.

Firefighters have kept in touch with his family, and during the summer, shifts of firefighters mowed the lawn at his home. Shepherd has been over to the house a few times, doing things like checking the furnace; Brazell has patched up broken furniture. Around Christmas, Life Flight personnel and firefighters put up the Christmas tree and Christmas lights for the Guerrero family.

"That really meant a lot to me," said Guerrero's widow, Terri.

Shepherd and other members of Guerrero's crew, the men with whom he worked his 24-hour shifts for the Provo Fire Department, also have continued a tradition that their fallen brother began four years ago. When the Intermountain Burn Center opened its Camp Nah-nah-mah, four years ago, Guerrero, who operated a barbecue company on the side, cooked a barbecue for the families and the kids on the last day of camp. Every year since, even though Guerrero stopped doing barbecue work, he kept cooking that meal.

This year, his crew cooked the meal -- now named the Mario Guerrero Memorial Burn Camp Barbecue -- but didn't try to cook tri-tip, Guerrero's specialty, because "we didn't feel good about it, so we made hamburgers," said Brent Tew, who is the fire captain of the crew.

There has been more -- posthumous awards, trips to firefighter memorials and a collection to establish a scholarship fund at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif. But the most intimate remembrance of Guerrero is Guerrero himself.

The thoughts and memories will always be there, Shepherd said. One of the ways to honor Guerrero is to "learn from his character" and apply it into their lives, he said.