The 20th Annual California Firefighters Memorial Ceremony was held on Saturday, July 30, 2022. Etched into the polished limestone wall at the Memorial are the names of more than 1,400 who have given their lives in the line of duty since California became a state in 1850. The event is usually held at the Capital Park, but due to the delay of the pandemic and the number of Firefighters being remembered this year, the venue could not hold all eighty-two families gathered from throughout the state, and the event was moved into the Safe Credit Union Convention Center with a procession to the Memorial Wall in Capital Park. Of the 82 California Firefighters being honored, ten were our very own. Several of our families have waited three years to honor their loved ones.
The following are the names of our fallen LAFD members that were added to the Memorial Wall this year. From 2020 were: Donald Welcker, Engineer; Glen Phillips, Engineer; James Como, Captain I; Richard Watson, Captain I. From 2021 were: Ray Van Blarcom, Captain I; Jose Perez, Firefighter III/Paramedic. From 2022 were: George Roque, Captain I; John Ruedy, Captain II; Henry Munoz, Firefighter III; William James, Captain I.
On Friday night, the California Fire Foundation hosted a dinner at the Historic Governor’s Mansion, just blocks from the Capital Park. Seven of our widows attended the dinner, along with other widows from across the state of California. There, they were able to tour the Mansion, eat a meal together, and meet Governor Gavin Newsom. While the widows were enjoying their evening at the Governor’s Mansion, the Family Support Group, LAFRA Trustee’s, UFLAC members, and a few LAFD Firefighters took Jim Como’s sons, Cody & Clint, and Don Welcker’s children, Roxanne and Christian out to dinner at Chando’s Cantina. It was located right next door to the Governor’s Mansion and when they sat us outside on their patio, we could see through the fence into the Governor’s Mansion yard. We were able to then walk back over to the Mansion at 8 p.m. to pick up our families and walk them back to the hotel. The evening was filled with smiles, laughter, and we shared story after story about our fallen Firefighters.
The following morning, Saturday, our 10 LAFD families shared breakfast with our LAFD Honor Guard, Family Support Group, Trustees from the Relief Association, and UFLAC members. This was also a chance for our LAFD families to meet with their flag presenters. More stories were shared around each table. After breakfast, everyone had a few hours to rest, see Sacramento, and most took this time to visit the Memorial Wall at Capitol Park. The families were able to trace the names onto tissue paper as a keepsake to take home with them. This was the perfect time as later that evening the Memorial Wall was just too crowded to reach. We all met back at the Sheraton at 3 p.m. where the California Firefighters Foundation hosted a family reception for all 82 families. Jeff Cawdrey, President of the Relief Association, and Freddy Escobar, President of our Local 112, then presented each of our families with a bouquet of flowers. Our eight widows received a dozen red roses and the sons attending for their fathers each received a more masculine bouquet. Luckily, we were able to take a few group photos before it was time to go. From the Reception, all the LAFD families, LAFD personnel, Family Support Group, LAFRA Trustees, and UFLAC Members walked together to the Safe Credit Union Convention Center for the Memorial Ceremony.
The Ceremony was the largest they had ever held. The Pipes and Drums led a moving procession around the Convention Center room, along with the Honor Guard carrying all eighty-two California flag boxes and each Local flag. The president of the California Professional Firefighters welcomed everyone to the Memorial. This year, they presented each family with a California State Flag. Our LAFD Honor Guard presented all ten flags to our families; Sandy Welcker received her flag on behalf of her husband, Don Welcker; Grant Phillips received his flag on behalf of his father, Glen Phillips; Cody Como received his flag on behalf of his father, James Como; Diana Watson received her flag on behalf of her husband, Richard Watson; Nick Van Blarcom received his flag on behalf of his father, Ray Van Blarcom; Heidi Perez received her flag on behalf of her husband, Jose Perez; Hope Roque received her flag on behalf of her husband, George Roque; Lisa James received her flag on behalf of her husband, William James; Paige Ruedy received her flag on behalf of her father, John Ruedy; and Kate Munoz received her flag on behalf of her husband, Henry Munoz. After the Memorial was concluded, they asked all uniformed personnel to exit the building. As we exited the building, J Street was lined on both sides of the street with uniformed personnel from departments from across the state of California. It was powerful to see so many lining the streets. It took your breath away as you walked the path to the park where the Memorial Wall stands. Once we made our way to the Memorial Wall, our families all gathered, hugged, laughed, cried, and took some beautiful pictures–some of which you see in this article.
This year’s California Memorial was like no other Memorial in its history. On behalf of all our Fallen Families, they would like to thank everyone who traveled to Sacramento, watched on the live stream, or reached out to them. Your support was felt over the entire weekend. We would also like to thank Adam Van Gerpen for all the photos from the weekend. Thanks to him, special moments were able to be captured and treasured forever. He was able to get all ten of our families together, with our Honor Guard, and take each family’s photo after the Memorial.
On behalf of the Family Support Group, we would like to thank everyone who was present with our families or took the time to reach out to them during this weekend. We saw many texts from LAFD widows who had attended this Memorial in the past to our families. Your texts and calls meant so much to them. In the future, if you are an LAFD Firefighter traveling to any of these Memorials, we would love it if you could reach out to us in advance and let us know that you will be there. We would love to share all the information with you about what will be happening and where we will be. firstname.lastname@example.org or (323)259-5277.
Written by Diane Vigil