Your eyes are not deceiving you, and yes, the title date is correct. This article is celebrating the 2019 Los Angeles Firefighters Association Firefighter of the Year. Although the event was a year late due to Covid concerns, it was well worth the wait. On a warm July day at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Downtown LA, the doors were opened and it was business as usual as guests of the event were welcomed into the festive setting. Family, friends, long-time co-workers and dignitaries started to fill the large hotel banquet hall, all eyes on the lookout for the man of the day, or should I say, Firefighter of the Year—Captain II Rick Godinez.
This was the 53rd such event held in the Firefighter Association’s history, honoring the men and women of the LAFD through not just one single act, but recognized for a career of excellence, both personally and professionally, their actions going above and beyond the norm. The first event was held in 1967 and has continued to this day. David Frelinger Emceed the event. His quick wit and humorous ways keeping the event light but still respectful. The Los Angeles City Fire Department Color Guard began the festivities by striking the colors accompanied by John Keyes on the bag pipes. Daniel Rodriguez was next called to sing the Star-Spangled Banner filling the space with his lovely baritone voice. Chaplin Tim Werle was called upon to do the invocation and then lunch was served. Chicken, potatoes, and vegetables were served up, with some guests opting for the fish—delicious. Cheesecake finished most off just in time for the formal program to begin.
Emcee Frelinger started off by introducing Rick’s family and friends—a lot of them! You could see the pride in Rick’s eye as they introduced his family—especially when his wife and children were mentioned. Dave then went on to introduce past recipients that were present at the event, and as Chief Ralph Terrazas would later call them—the Hall of Famers of the Department. The Chief’s presence was nice to see, along with other top brass of the Department. Chief Terrazas even brought his comedian side with him, mentioning the new grooming standard of retired members present and one active member that will go unnamed—Keep it above the lips, Boy! Following a brief but appreciative speech from Fire Commissioner Jimmy Hara, M.D., formal plaque presentations were made by the Chief, Charleen Rowens, a representative for California Casualty Insurance, and last but not least, our own Jim Dolan, the president of the Firefighters Association. With each acceptance, Rick graciously accepted his honors and thanked the participants. With the formal presentations out of the way, it was time for Captain Godinez to have his time in the spot light. Rick began by speaking elegantly of past recipients of the award, especially of one of his many mentors—John White who was not present due to his passing. Rick also spoke of his quiet time he spent each morning before a shift, sitting in his car before entering the station. There he would sit and pray for the safety of his crew and to be granted the wisdom to make the right decisions. He next thanked his wife and soulmate, Terri, for all her love and support over the years. The outpouring of praise and thanks for others went on for a little while ending with a heartfelt thank you to his crew at Fire Station 2. Chaplin George Negrete was next up to the podium for the benediction, closely followed by Daniel Rodriguez singing us to the end of the event with his rendition of America the Beautiful. Thank you to all that were in attendance, especially the chairs of the Firefighters Association for their tireless effort in maintaining a strong presence by supporting important training and benefit issues. We would like to especially recognize Dennis Frazier—Parliamentarian, Bryan Geiger—Secretary, George James—Vice-President, and of course, Jim Dolan—President. We look forward to the next event, where the Firefighters Association will honor the 2020 recipient—Captain II Thomas D. Kitahata.
By John Hicks