Fallen firefighters honored at somber ceremony
4 die in fire, including 2 firefightersCONCORD -- The slow beat of a lone snare drum. The swift whisper of a thousand sleeves raised in salute. A stage framed by a pair of hanging fire coats, the names of the fallen sewn in fluorescent yellow letters. A wife's sobs echoing over the bagpipe wail of "Amazing Grace."
And, when it was over, a line of firefighters in dark blue, sniffling or pressing sunglasses over damp eyes as they rose up the stairway aisles.
Images and sounds of sorrow filled the Sleep Train Pavilion on Friday as firefighters from across the state, local paramedics, deputies and grieving relatives honored two Contra Costa firefighters, husbands and fathers who were killed a week ago in a house blaze near San Pablo.
More than 4,000 people, most in dress uniforms, filled the rows of concert seating beneath the wide pavilian awning as Capt. Matt Burton and Engineer Scott Desmond were remembered for their humor, family devotion and an unshrinking dedication that sent them into a burning house early Saturday morning to try and save a couple.
"They didn't hesitate. They didn't flinch. They rushed in to save Delbert and Gayle Moore, God rest their souls," said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Burton, 34, and Desmond, 37, became the first line-of-duty deaths in the 43-year history of the Contra Costa Fire District, officials said. Delbert and Gayle Moore, who lived in the home on Michele Drive in unincorporated Montalvin Manor, also died in the blaze.
Some of the couple's relatives attended the two-hour memorial, which followed a morning procession of some 130 fire engines from across Northern California and dozens of other emergency vehicles -- lights flashing, sirens off -- east from Sunvalley mall.
Hundreds of spectators lined the route, many of them hoisting American flags.
Later, pictures of the two smiling men appeared on large screens above the pavilion stage as relatives, friends and colleagues described the two men as equal parts fun-loving and committed.
"He always looked at you like he knew something that you didn't," joked Robert Desmond of his brother's trademark impish grin.
"Looking up on that stage I saw three images -- two pictures of the guys and the American flag -- and they all represented the same thing: courage, honor and sacrifice," said Contra Costa Battalion Chief Dave George. "These guys did the ultimate sacrifice."
Desmond, a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., joined the district in 1999 and was filling in on Engine 70 in San Pablo the day of the blaze. He leaves behind his wife, Carolyn and a 17-month-old son.
Burton, a Mt. Diablo High graduate and 10-year district veteran, rose to captain in February and transferred to Engine 70. He is survived by his wife, Chantel, and two young children.
Family members sat in the front rows Friday, backed by rows of firefighters from across the state -- a self-described extended family.
"If we could rewind the tape, turn back the clock to last Saturday, all of us here would want to be on Michele Drive, doing what we could do to not be here today," said Lou Paulson, a Contra Costa fire captain and president of California Professional Firefighters.
The deaths were a sobering reminder of the dangers they can face even on seemingly "routine" fires, firefighters said.
"After the incident I went home and hugged my child harder," said Newark firefighter Dave O'Brien. "All those cliches are all true. But you can't dwell on it."
Firefighter Vito Impastato, a close friend of Burton, said he went out on a call from Station 81 in Antioch this week that "wound up not much of anything," but sent his heart racing.
"We bottle this stuff up," said Impastato. "I think a lot of people will be dealing with this for a long time."
George, the battalion chief, called it the deepest sorrow he has seen in his 24 years in the district. He said the district has provided counseling to firefighters in the wake of the deaths.
"We're much stronger at what they did on Saturday than what we're doing today" at the memorial, he said.
Contra Costa firefighters choked up as Tony Miller, who drove Engine 70 to the deadly fire, rang a brass fire bell on stage -- a ceremonial farewell for line-of-duty deaths.
Up the aisles, two bright red fire engines sat parked on a walkway on either side of the stage: Engine 88, from Desmond's station, and Engine 70. As the lines of Contra Costa firefighters rose up the stairs, some stopped to touch their polished metal grab bars -- another somber tradition.
Others just rubbed their eyes.
By John Simerman
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
There is no way to describe the effect that this has had on our department. I was out of the country with my wife, celebrating our 15th anniversary when this happened and I not only didnít know it had happened, but missed all of the services.
Scott Desmond was one of those rare people that could be a great firefighter and then engineer, and also remain childlike. I had so much fun working with him. He was always cutting up, making jokes and at the same time great at his job.
Matt was one of the reserve firefighters I supervised over 10 years ago, and then he worked with my mom, brother, brother in-law and some of my best friends at a lighting company. He then came back as a mail runner at our department before he was hired as a full time firefighter.
Matt was one of those guys that always had a smile and everyone liked. A few years later he became an engineer. I was working an overtime shift one day and the firefighter at the station was taking the engineer test in two days. He knew I helped people with promotions and asked for my help. I had ďactedĒ as an engineer, but never been one. Matt was working at station 81 and I called him. He invited us down and spent over 5 hours working on pumping problems with this guy. As a firefighter, engineer, and captain, I have never met a more confident person.
As far as the reviews have gone so far there was nothing that they could have done differently, I canít see where I would have acted differently. They died trying the rescue a citizen and did everything right, but they died. Unknown to anyone a peaked roof had been added to a flat roof and so it hadnít been vented, the whole house flashed over while they were removing a victim.
Over 4000 people attended the ceremonies. All of our stations were covered by crews from departments, some as far as 100 miles away. Oakland covered our three person station with 13 people. An engine, Tiller truck, B/C and driver. An off duty police officer came in to be a navigator. SanRamon fire coordinated everything, They paid to feed over 4,000 people after the service
Hug your children, love you wife, if you have to put your vacation on the credit card, do it. You never know what life will bring for you. More firefighters die driving to work than at work, you just donít ever know.
Here is a slide show of the service.
Good Luck, Captain Rob
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Thread: Fallen Brothers
08-05-2007, 10:32 PM #1
- Join Date
- Oct 2003
- north of San Francisco
Last edited by FFighterRob; 08-05-2007 at 11:05 PM.
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