“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.”
The California Firefighters’ Memorial in Capitol Park serves as an enduring remembrance of the men and women who lost their lives while serving on California’s front lines of public safety. The state depends on firefighters to ensure Californians’ safety. Whether battling a structure blaze, handling hazardous materials spills, or as first responders in the face of natural disaster, the firefighters’ workplace is challenging, hazardous and, many times, unforgiving. A firefighting crew embodies the true spirit of self-sacrifice each time it answers an alarm─the families and friends of those whose names are immortalized in the memorial know this all too well. With its bronze statues and limestone memorial wall, the monument honors the more than 900 men and women who have died in the line of duty since California achieved statehood in 1850.
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.
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 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 240.3 million for the memorial. To date these two grassroots fund-raising efforts have generated more than 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.
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.
The sculpture “Holding the Line” pays tribute to the profession’s spirit of teamwork, focus, and dedication. Three firefighters are charged with feeding the hose line up to the fourth who is holding the nozzle. Like Jesus Romo, artist Lawrence Noble chose to immortalize actual firefighters as models for his work: Chief Rose Conroy of the Davis Fire Department, the first woman ever to be named chief of a professional municipal fire department in California; Kenny Enslow, who perished fighting a forest fire in Mendocino County; Captain Steve Bowie of the Los Angeles County Fire Department; and Frank Reynoso, also of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. To view the story in more detail, go to the Holding the Line 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.
California will continue to rely on the self-sacrificing bravery of those who put their lives on the line for public safety. And sadly Californians will continue to honor those who have lost their lives in the line of duty by immortalizing their names on the monument’s memorial wall.
For more information about California’s firefighters and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, visit the CDF Firefighters website.