On September 16, 2023, the names of George Roque, John Ruedy, Henry Munoz, William James, and Russell Nakamura were added to the Wall at the IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Colorado Springs, CO. The year 2023 was incredible for the IAFF Memorial as they once again combined two years, 2021 and 2022, due to the pandemic. Relief Association Trustees, UFLAC, Honor Guard, LA Fire Hogs, Chief Crowley, along with the Family Support Group, traveled alongside our five LAFD Families to Colorado Springs.
In 1986, Colorado Springs became the home of the International Association of Fire Fighters’ Annual Fire Fighter Memorial. The memorial went through Congress to gain recognition and was the result of petitioning from Colorado Springs-area firefighters in collaboration with IAFF officials. In 2014, IAFF members raised nearly $4 million to pay for a redesign of Memorial Park. The park was remodeled over eight months and reopened in time for the 2015 ceremony. This new design was built around the centerpiece bronze statue, titled “Somewhere, Everyday,” which depicts a firefighter descending a ladder while cradling an infant. The remodel also added new walls to honor all firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty or to job-related illness since 1918, the year the Wall was founded.
This year we came together to honor 572 IAFF Firefighters that were added to the Memorial Wall, which is the largest Memorial to date. More than 4,000 firefighters, family, and friends traveled from around North America and Canada to Colorado Springs for the 37th annual remembrance weekend; a time to honor International Association of Fire Fighter members who died in the line of duty or from work-related illness.
For our LAFD families, the IAFF Memorial is a weekend affair. From the moment our families arrive in Colorado Springs, Local 5 was there to get them at the airport, shuttle them to their hotels, and help them register for the event. Local 5 in Colorado Springs is a unique group of individuals. We fondly refer to them as the ‘Blue Shirt guys.’
During the event, we would come together each evening to support our families while they were there to honor their loved ones. Thursday evening, UFLAC hosted us at the Phantom Canyon Brewery, which is located directly across the street from the Antlers Hotel, the host hotel for the Memorial. This is the perfect spot to share some food, watch some football, share stories, and, again this year, Valerie Lawrence made balloon animals for all the kiddos. This is also the night we visit the Memorial Wall at night. This is the first time our families saw the Wall. This gave the families time to etch their loved one’s name and leave behind mementos.
Friday was our first-time ever experiencing rain in Colorado Springs, while our families visited the surrounding area during the day. Later that evening, we then gathered at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort to have dinner together, hosted by the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association. This dinner is a time for our fallen families to be with our LAFD Honor Guard. Chief Crowley, Freddie Escobar, and Chris Stine spoke to the families. Once dinner was over, we loaded up in a school bus, yes, a school bus, provided by Local 5 (with help from Lauren Stine) due to the size of our group and rode downtown to watch the Massed Pipes and Drums Parade. Several Trustees helped form a line to get the kids close to the drums, where the drummers allowed our kids to play with them. A very special moment for many of our families.
Saturday, the day of the Memorial, started off very early due to the rain all day on Friday. Our LAFRA Trustees, along with UFLAC Members, met our families for breakfast at the Antlers and then rode over to the park with our families. This year we were a very large group of over 100 people. They were met at the park by the Family Support Group who saved seats for the families and prepared the family seats with all the necessary items they needed for the three-hour memorial. The memorial started out with a ‘Ride to Remember,’ with a firetruck procession of more than 28 fire trucks, 40 motorcycles, and a bagpipe performance. Once again, this year was a little different due to the 572 firefighters being honored. The memorial was livestreamed, and you can find it on YouTube, on the IAFF site.
Our LAFD families were presented with an IAFF flag by our honor guard. George Roque’s flag was presented to his son, Ortega Roque. John Ruedy’s flag was presented to his daughter, Paige Ruedy. Henry Munoz’s flag was presented to his daughters, Jacqueline and Julianne Munoz. William James’s flag was presented to his wife, Lisa James. Russell Nakamura’s flag was presented to his brother, retired LAFD member Wayne Nakamura. We were so lucky this year to be able to get all our LAFD family in pictures. We did our best to include as many of the participants as possible. We apologize in advanced if anyone was missed. Thank you to Adam VanGerpen for taking all these amazing photos of our families. What a gift for all of them to cherish. Saturday night, we gathered for our last dinner together at the Antlers Hotel. It was hosted by IAFF. Sadly, Ed Kelley had a family emergency, so Frank Lima hosted for LAFD and Boston Fire. We had a beautiful evening toasting our fallen loved ones and once again sharing stories. After dinner, we made our way down the street for the Massed Pipes and Drums Parade, again. Then we all met up at the Cowboy Restaurant where the Pipes and Drums came into the Cowboy and played for all of us. You might have caught this on many of our family’s social media pages.
We wanted to say a special thanks to our five families for letting us come alongside them for this memorial. We hope we eased some of your stress and made you laugh more than cry. Each year, when we prepared to travel to the IAFF Memorial, we tried to consider our family’s needs. We would like to thank four widows that returned this year to show support to our fallen families; Sylvia McKnight, Karen Prosser, Shannon Mc Osker and Valerie Lawrence. Lastly, someone who has been a tremendous help these past two years is Tom Kitahata. With the combined years and our large presence, Tom “Kit” Kitahata drove a van from California to Colorado Springs so that we could have everything we would need. If you see Tom out in the field, please make sure to thank him for all his work. If you feel drawn to do so, please consider joining us next year to honor those who have given everything In the Line of Duty! May we never forget their Ultimate Sacrifice.
By Diane Vigil, LAFRA Family Support Coordinator
Photos by Adam VanGerpen