The Courage of Everyday Heroes
"On this spot the people of California are building a memorial to honor those firefighters who lost their lives protecting our neighborhoods, our homes, our families and our dreams."
─ California Firefighter Memorial site dedication, 1995
The idea for a California memorial came to California Professional Firefighters (CPF) President Dan Terry in 1992, while attending a ceremony at the International Association of Firefighters Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "I just kept thinking about all the families who would never have a chance to go to Colorado. They deserved a memorial in the state where their loved ones worked," said Terry. Terry worked with CPF Governmental Advocate Brian Hatch and California Assemblyman Rusty Arieas to steer a bill through the Legislature that would bring Terry's vision to life. Governor Pete Wilson signed Assembly Bill No. 3198 on September 29, 1992, stipulating the creation of the Firefighters' Memorial Task Force. This task force was entrusted with choosing the perfect location for the memorial in Capitol Park, while preserving the historical integrity and natural beauty of the park's grounds. The location near the center of Capitol Park was dedicated on May 31, 1995.
With one hurdle conquered, the next challenge was to secure funding to build the structure. In 1993 Governor Wilson signed two bills that would help CPF acquire the funds needed to build the memorial─the California Firefighters' Memorial Income Tax Check-off, and the California Firefighters' license plate. The income tax check-off provides a way for all Californians to honor their state's firefighters by choosing to donate a portion of their expected state tax refund to the memorial. The tax check-off program has thus far generated more than $900,000 for the California Fire Foundation, the memorial's fund-raising vehicle.
The California Firefighter License Plate allows firefighters to show their pride while helping fund the memorial. The plate's identifying feature is an image of actor Kurt Russell from the Universal Studios movie "Back Draft." The film's director, Ron Howard, personally helped secure permission to use the image on the plate, which is only available to active and retired firefighters. Its sale has so far helped raise more than $1.3 million for the memorial. To date these two grassroots fund-raising efforts have generated more than $2 million for the memorial. The Firefighters' Memorial funds are provided exclusively through private donations.
The focal point of the memorial is the polished limestone wall that immortalizes the names of California's fallen firefighters. The wall bore 855 firefighters' names at the time of the memorial's unveiling. Blank panels serve as a somber reminder of the loss yet to be felt by the loved ones of firefighters who do not return from the call of duty. The wall is flanked on either side by bronze replicas of firefighter helmets and jackets, called turnouts, a reference to the long-held firehouse tradition of leaving the coat and hat of an off-duty firefighter hanging untouched until he or she returns to duty. To view the names engraved on the wall, choose Firefighters Memorial Wall under Virtual Tour Details at this tour stop.
There are few professions in which co-workers' lives depend on one another. When firefighters fall, their loss is at once a heartbreaking misfortune as well as a solemn reminder to their associates of their own mortality. The sculpture "Fallen Brother" depicts the sorrow felt by a firefighter as he retrieves his lifeless comrade from the flames. Artist Jesus Romo is a 26-year veteran of the Sacramento City Fire Department. He was inspired to create this homage to the fellowship of firefighting by his passion for his work and the losses he has felt personally during his lengthy career. San Francisco Fire Captain Gerry Shannon was given the honor of posing as the model for the struggling firefighter. Shannon displayed heroism during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake by rescuing a woman who'd been trapped in a collapsed building in San Francisco's Marina District. To view the story in more detail, go to the Fallen Brother Sculpture Video Story Related Link at this tour stop.
On April 6, 2002, the California Firefighters' Memorial was officially unveiled. The families of fallen firefighters were invited to Sacramento to honor their lost loved ones and share their memories with others. Governor Gray Davis, along with CPF President Dan Terry, joined more than 2,000 uniformed firefighters to honor their lost colleagues. This emotional event was followed by the First Annual Ceremony on May 22, 2003, which honored those who lost their lives during the year following the memorial's dedication.
For more information about California's firefighters and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, visit the CDF Firefighters website.