Biden, Calif. laud 2 fallen firefighters
LOS ANGELES - Two veteran firefighters who died trying to save the lives of dozens trapped in the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history were remembered as heroes yesterday in a memorial service at a sun-dappled Dodger Stadium attended by Vice President Joe Biden.
Captain Tedmund “Ted’’ Hall and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo “Arnie’’ Quinones were killed Aug. 30 when their truck plunged off a mountain road as they were trying to find an escape route for dozens of inmate-firefighters whose camp had become overrun by flames.
Biden said firefighters are quick to dismiss the term hero and tell others they are just people doing their jobs when they charge into flames to save lives and property. But he added that Hall and Quinones were nonetheless part of a special breed.
“There’s a saying that all men are created equal but then a few become firefighters,’’ Biden said.
“Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones, you are giants in my eyes and in the eyes of all Californians,’’ Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
Schwarzenegger recounted how the firefighters drove toward the flames looking for a way out as the fire came bearing down on dozens of prison-inmate firefighters huddled in a dining hall high in the mountains. He said he was humbled by their bravery.
The often-emotional service in the cavernous stadium took place a few miles south of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, where the firefighters lost their lives and where their brethren are still battling to contain the wildfire.
“Just over the hills behind me there are 3,000 firefighters who are now putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us,’’ the governor said.
The blaze, which destroyed more than 80 homes and ravaged a 250-square-mile stretch of national forest, is now 84 percent contained. It is expected to be fully contained by Tuesday.
Investigators still have not determined who set the fire Aug. 26 and are continuing to review tips from the public. Last week, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the lead investigative agency, assigned six more homicide detectives to case, bringing the total to 10.
The memorial service drew firefighters from across California and as far away as New York.
Firefighter Specialist Rob Morales, a close friend of both men, was the foreman at the camp overrun by flames. He said Quinones, 34, was “a big kid who loved to learn.’’
Hall, 47, was remembered as the crusty veteran who had three loves in his life: family, job, and motorcycles. “When you worked with Ted you wanted to do your job better because he was so good at his,’’ Captain John Montero said.