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California Fires Claim the Life of a Firefighter

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  • MalahatTwo7

    Rest in Peace My Brother.

    Firefighter hailed from near and far
    1,500 cohorts attend Steve Rucker's San Rafael memorial

    Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer Thursday, November 13, 2003
    Steve Rucker never wanted to be anything but a firefighter.

    It was a dream that began when he was 5 years old and never missed an episode of the 1970s firefighting drama "Emergency." It continued as a young man whose first date with the woman he would later marry ended with a trip to the local firehouse.

    Nothing was going to stop him from fulfilling his goal, even his bad eyesight. When his vision wasn't quite good enough to make the cut at the Novato Fire Protection District, he spent $8,000 on surgery to have his eyes fixed.

    "I never knew anyone who wanted to be a firefighter as much as Steve," said Novato Fire Chief Jeffrey Meston, who took Rucker under his wing when the eager young recruit joined the force 11 years ago. "Steve lived and breathed his dream."

    It was a dream that exacted the ultimate price. Steven Liss Rucker was 38 when he died Oct. 29 on the porch of a house he was struggling to save from the biggest wildfire in California history, the Cedar Fire in San Diego County.

    On Wednesday, two weeks to the day after Rucker's death, Meston eulogized "the Ruckster" during a memorial at the Marin Civic Center that drew more than 1,500 firefighters, some from as far as New York City. Few had ever met Rucker,

    but it didn't matter. He was a firefighter, they said, and that made him a brother.

    "When one of us falls, we all fall," said Ron Owens of the Oceanside Fire Department in San Diego County. "We all feel it. We're all one department."

    More than 400 fire trucks from throughout California rolled down Avenue of the Flags to the Civic Center. One by one, firefighters wearing dress blues and black bands over their badges filed past the fire truck to which Rucker was assigned to when he died -- Engine 6162 -- and into Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

    It took 45 minutes to get them all inside. When the last seat was filled, hundreds more were ushered into a nearby exhibit hall to watch on closed- circuit television.

    Outside the auditorium, an honor guard of firefighters -- backs straight, chins out and gloved hands at their sides -- flanked the truck and a large portrait of Rucker, surrounded by roses. Few of them could bring themselves to do more than glance at the truck, still streaked with soot from the fire that scorched its paint and melted its taillights.

    Many of them had stared down the same fire that took Rucker's life and those of 13 others -- a fire that, though contained, continues to burn -- and knew that, but for a twist of fate, it might have been them being memorialized.

    "You think about what happened," said Gary Snyder of the Reno Fire Department, which sent 24 firefighters to the Southern California fires. "It sends chills down my spine. One mistake, one bad judgment ... it could have been any one of us."

    For some, the emotions of the memorial were especially painful.

    "I can't go inside," said Danny Noonan, a firefighter from Engine 33, Company 9 in New York City. Ten men from his company were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was one of a dozen FDNY members who came to pay tribute to Rucker.

    "I can't look at the children. I can't look at the family.," Noonan said. "I just can't."

    The two-hour service was a somber affair broken by occasional laughter as friends, colleagues and dignitaries eulogized Rucker as a fearless firefighter,

    loving husband and doting father. Rucker's wife, Catherine, and his two children, 7-year-old Kersten and 2-year-old Wesley, watched from the front of the auditorium.

    "Cathy," said Gov. Gray Davis, addressing Rucker's wife from a stage awash in photographs of the fallen firefighter, mementos and his firefighting gear, "I want you to know that everyone in California is mourning with you today. Steve Rucker embodied the best values our nation has to offer: courage, honor and compassion."

    Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger attended but did not speak.

    Others called Rucker a brave but modest man and a hero who never would have thought the term applied to him.

    "Steve was probably the most decent and straightforward man I've ever met, " Meston said.

    Rucker's passion for firefighting, Meston said, was born of a heartfelt desire to help people. He was the type of man who was the first to volunteer for a job and the last to leave, someone who kept his cool in even the most trying circumstances.

    Maybe that was because he had a lot of kid in him. The slightly heavyset guy with burly arms and a receding hairline was a proud member of the Looney Tunes Cartoon Club -- "he always said it was for the kids," Meston said.

    Rucker had a soft spot for children. Every year he led the Novato department's Toys for Tots program -- always dressing up as an elf -- and bought a pickup truck he named "Big Red" just to distribute toys during the holidays.

    So deep was his love of children, and his desire to help people, that his son's middle name is Evan, after a 10-year-old boy Rucker was unable to save.

    John Hawkins, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry,

    was the incident commander for the Cedar Fire and the man on whose watch Rucker died. He described how Rucker and three other Novato firefighters fought to save a house on a street that locals have since taken to calling "Rucker Ridge."

    Two of those men suffered minor injuries; the third, Capt. Doug McDonald, remains hospitalized with burns over 18 percent of his body.

    Rucker knew the risk he took when he volunteered to go to San Diego, and he accepted it without hesitation, Hawkins said.

    And that, he said, makes Steve Rucker a hero.

    "There's no better job than living your dream," Hawkins said. "Steve Rucker, thank you for being our hero and for living the dream."

    E-mail Chuck Squatriglia at [email protected].

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  • NJFFSA16
    Rest In Peace!

    SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) - Friends, family and thousands of
    fellow firefighters gathered Wednesday to honor Steven Rucker, who
    died doing the job he dreamed of since kindergarten.
    Colleagues memorialized Rucker as a big-hearted man who off the
    job could be found dressed up as chief elf at an annual toy drive
    or watching "Looney Tunes" with his children.
    Rucker, a 38-year-old fire engineer from the San Francisco
    suburb of Novato, died Oct. 29 battling one of the fires that
    ravaged Southern California. He had volunteered to go south and
    fight the Cedar Fire, which burned 280,278 acres in San Diego
    County, destroyed 2,232 homes and killed 13 residents.
    On Wednesday, fire trucks with red lights churning drove past a
    phalanx of firefighters in ceremonial uniform who stood beneath a
    brilliant sun. Parked outside the memorial auditorium was the
    engine Rucker and his crew rode to the front lines.
    About 3,000 firefighters from California and other parts of the
    West came. Many arrived in their trucks Tuesday afternoon - among
    them Capt. Dennis Rogers of the Oceanside Fire Department in San
    Diego County.
    "We're all in the same family. When one falls, it's like
    someone in our own department fell," said Rogers, whose crew
    fought another of the fires. "It's especially poignant because
    Steve came down to fight a fire in our county."
    The firefighters were joined by elected leaders including
    Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Gray Davis, who praised
    Rucker a "genuine American hero."
    The ceremony began with an American Indian prayer delivered by
    the Novato police chaplain.
    Friends wiped away tears as they watched a video on Rucker's
    life, showing him growing up, embracing his wife Cathy and their
    two young children, and working the job he loved. The pictures were
    set to the country music of Shania Twain, one of his favorite
    Novato Fire Chief Jeffrey Meston eulogized Rucker as a devoted
    colleague and natural father.
    "Even before he had children, Steve was our most devoted
    Santa's elf," at an annual toy drive, Meston said.
    "Steve was probably the most genuine, decent and
    straightforward human being I've ever known," Meston said. "There
    were never any hidden agendas with Steve - qualities which made him
    easy to tease, but easy to love like a brother."
    Mementos of Rucker's life were arranged across the stage: his
    Eagle Scout uniform, firefighting jacket and boots and the license
    plate from his car which read FIRE RUC.
    One of 11 members of the Novato Fire Protection District to
    fight last month's fires, Rucker and his crew were trying to save a
    mountain home near the town of Julian when a fast moving wall of
    flames overtook them.
    The blaze killed Rucker and left another crew member, Capt. Doug
    McDonald, hospitalized with second-degree burns over a quarter of
    his body. Two other crew members suffered minor injuries.
    "I can't think of anything more painful than losing a
    brother," said Capt. Gordon Winningham, a Fresno firefighter who
    served as part of the honor guard. "It's a tremendous brotherhood
    we have worldwide, and when we lose one, it hurts."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • NJFFSA16
    SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) - Friends, dignitaries and thousands of
    firefighters will attend a memorial service Wednesday to honor
    Steven Rucker, the only firefighter to lose his life battling the
    wildfires that ravaged parts of Southern California last month.
    Rucker, a 38-year-old fire engineer from Novato, north of San
    Francisco, died fighting the Cedar Fire in San Diego County October
    29. The fire burned 280,278 acres, destroyed 2,232 homes and killed
    13 other people.
    At least 5,000 mourners - including 3,000 firefighters from
    California and other parts of the west - were planning to attend
    the service, according to Sgt. Doug Pittman of the Novato Fire
    Protection District. Many firefighters started arriving in their
    fire trucks on Tuesday afternoon, Pittman said.
    Several elected leaders, including Gov. Gray Davis, Gov.-elect
    Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lt. Gov. Cruz
    Bustamante and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, also planned to take part in the
    The 11 a.m. ceremony will include a video on Rucker's life, an
    honor guard and an American Indian prayer delivered by the Novato
    police chaplain.
    One of eleven members of the Novato Fire Protection District to
    go south to fight the wildfires, Rucker and his crew were trying to
    save a mountain home near the town of Julian when a fast moving
    wall of flames overtook them.
    The blaze killed Rucker and left another crew member, Capt. Doug
    McDonald, hospitalized with second-degree burns over 28 percent of
    his body. Two other crew members, Shawn Kreps and Barrett Smith,
    were treated for minor injuries and released.
    Friends and co-workers described Rucker, an eleven-year veteran
    of the department, as a gregarious man who loved his job and was
    active in the community. He and his wife Cathy, a chemist for the
    U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, had moved into a new home in Novato
    just five months earlier with their 7-year old daughter and 2-year
    old son.
    A memorial fund to help Rucker's family has been established in
    his name.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • NJFFSA16
    Memorial Service

    Huge crowd expected at fallen Novato firefighter's memorial

    (San Rafael-AP) -- Thousands are expected to attend a memorial
    in San Rafael this week for the Novato firefighter who died
    battling the wildfires in Southern California.
    Steven Rucker died October 29th when a firestorm swept over his
    four-man crew as they fought to save a house in San Diego County. A
    fire captain was seriously injured and the other two men suffered
    less serious injuries.
    The ceremony Wednesday is expected to draw more than five
    thousand people -- including firefighters from all over the West.
    Governor Davis was expected to attend.
    The ceremony will include a video on Rucker's life, an honor
    guard and an American Indian prayer delivered by Novato Police
    Chaplain Jo Ann Osborn.

    (Marin Independent Journal)

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • NJFFSA16
    Hundreds gather to honor fallen Novato firefighter

    (Santa Rosa-AP) -- Hundreds of police, firefighters and
    emergency medical personnel lined the road to the airport in Santa
    Rosa as the body of fallen Novato firefighter Steve Rucker came
    Rucker died last week when his four-man crew was overrun by
    flames while trying to protect a home from a wildfire near Wynola
    in San Diego County.
    The captain of Rucker's crew, Doug McDonald, suffered burns over
    28 percent of his body and remains at a San Diego burn facility. He
    is expected to recover.
    Shawn Kreps and Barrett Smith suffered minor burns.
    They escorted Rucker's remains on the California Air National
    Guard C-130 cargo plane yesterday.
    Thousands of people are expected to attend Rucker's memorial
    service November 12th at the Marin County fairgrounds.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • NJFFSA16
    Coming Home-Monday 11/03/03

    (Novato-AP) -- The body of a Novato firefighter killed in the
    Southern California wildfires will soon be returned home.
    The body of fire engineer Steven Rucker will be flown to Santa
    Rosa tomorrow (Monday) by the California Air National Guard.
    The body will then be escorted to Novato in a procession of
    public safety vehicles.
    A memorial service for Rucker is being planned for November 12th
    at the Marin County Civic Center.

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  • NJFFSA16
    NOVATO, Calif. (AP) - The firefighter killed when a fast-moving
    wildfire overtook his four-man crew as they tried to save a home
    was remembered at his home firehouse Thursday as a hard worker
    dedicated to the job.
    "He wasn't sent there. He asked to go," Deputy Novato Fire
    Chief Dan Northern said, fighting back tears as he stood beside a
    shrine of flowers, photos and the gear Steve Rucker had left
    Rucker, 38, was the first firefighter killed battling the blazes
    that have ravaged Southern California since the Santa Ana winds
    began blowing through the parched hills last week. Twenty people
    have died in wildfires still raging in San Diego, San Bernardino
    and Ventura counties.
    Rucker and his crew from the Novato Fire Protection District,
    north of San Francisco, were in San Diego County on Wednesday
    fighting a wildfire that has burned more than 230,000 acres and
    nearly 1,100 homes.
    They were trying to save a mountain home near Wynola when the
    fire flared up. The crew was overrun so quickly they didn't have
    time to reach their engine, said Fred Batchelor, a state fire
    marshal. He said they tried to take refuge in the house they were
    trying to protect.
    "It's calm one moment, and the next moment you have an
    explosive situation," Batchelor said. "In this case, it flared up
    and rolled in there and engulfed them."
    One of the three surviving crew members, Capt. Doug McDonald,
    was in critical condition Thursday with second-degree burns over 28
    percent of his body. The other two, Shawn Kreps and Barrett Smith,
    were treated for minor burns.
    At the site just off Highway 78 and Orchard Lane, yellow police
    tape cordoned off the area where Rucker died.
    Hundreds of miles to the north in Novato, Rucker's fellow
    firefighters remembered the 11-year veteran firefighter and father
    of two as they stood around the memorial in the firehouse lobby.
    "We're all struggling, trying to make sense of the situation,"
    Northern said.
    The shrine grew as firefighters from nearby communities and
    Novato residents paid their respects.
    Friends and colleagues remembered Rucker as gregarious and
    generous, a man who organized holiday toy drives and volunteered
    with the Boy Scouts.
    Guy Durham lived a few doors down from the Ruckers for several
    years, but didn't meet Steve Rucker until Durham was in a
    hospital's intensive care unit after suffering a heart attack.
    "We hadn't even met and the very next day he came to the ICU
    checking on my status and asking if he could do anything," Durham
    said. "That was the kind of caring person he was."
    Fire Chief Jeff Meston prepared to fly to the San Diego area
    with members of the firefighters' families Thursday. He said Rucker
    was "really one of those firefighters that we all love."
    "He's the kind of guy that organizes for the families - the
    Easter Bunny coming, Santa Claus coming for the kids," Meston
    said. "He was just a great man."
    At a morning briefing in the San Diego area, many firefighters
    wore black bands on their badges in memory of Rucker as they
    prepared to go battle the blaze that had killed him.
    "We know our job is dangerous," said Jim Venneau, a
    31-year-old firefighter stationed in nearby Julian. "We know the
    chances we take when we do these kinds of things. It bothers you.
    You want to know exactly what happened because you don't want it to
    happen to you."
    On the Net:
    Novato Fire Protection District: http://www.novatofire.org/

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  • RspctFrmCalgary
    It is with a heavy heart that I offer my deepest sympathies to the Rucker family and to Steve's firefighting family of the Novato Fire Protection District. May God comfort you in your time of sorrow.

    I pray for a quick and full recovery for the firefighters injured in the incident that so suddenly took Steve's life.

    To the 13,000 firefighters in southern California, you are all doing an awesome job braving the fires with such strength and determination! Our thoughts are with you on this difficult day.

    Rest in peace, Steve. Sleep with angels

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  • NJFFSA16

    Steve Rucker, a 38-year-old fire engineer from the Novato Fire
    Protection District near San Francisco, died while battling the
    Cedar Fire, which has burned more than 250,000 acres and 1,400
    homes. It was the first firefighter death since the series of
    blazes began last week.

    I offer my condolences to the Rucker family, and the Novato firefighting community. May our dear brother rest in peace!

    Leave a comment:

  • CharlieRFDPres
    god bless and keep you

    Agree the tone of a couple of articles is poor, including the one here on firehouse, 1st Ff lost, like its enevitable...... Yes its the worlds most dangerous job, but ITS NOT ENEVITABLE AND DEFINATELY NOT ACCEPTABLE. But for right now more importantly......

    Dear God Please open your gates and arms to our fallen brother (or sister), and grant your peace to his or her loved ones, please watch over our injured brother (or sister) and speed his/her recovery, and watch over and protect all of our brothers and sisters fighting the California fires, Amen.....

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  • firefiftyfive
    My prayers go out to the family of the firefighter and to the injured firefighters as well. Hopefully our brothers and sisters on the west coast can get these wild fires under control very soon and end the death and destruction going on right now....God Speed!!!

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  • MalahatTwo7
    It is with a heavy heart that I read this thread. God speed to full recovery for those who are injured. May God keep you from further harm.

    He has taken one of our Brothers, and will keep him safe. May he keep the others safe too.

    Leave a comment:

  • ullrichk
    Callous MU++ !!!

    AP Headline:

    First Firefighter Dies in Calif. Blazes
    By ANDREW BRIDGES, Associated Press Writer

    Like it was expected! Like it's an acceptable loss!

    Maybe he didn't mean it that way, but things are tough enough already.

    May our fallen brother rest in peace and our injured enjoy a speedy recovery.

    I have nothing but respect for everyone on the line in California.

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  • PFire23
    I sit here with tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart for our lost brother. I pray for him to rest in peace, for his family that they may find comfort in this awful time and for his Fire Department family that they may too find comfort, that they may continue on in their fight to contain this blaze, even though they have heavy hearts at this time and that they may win that fight without any further losses of life. Please God, keep our Cali brothers and sisters (and all those there helping them) safe, bring them all home to their families.

    May the injured have a quick recovery, and know that we are all pulling for them.

    Leave a comment:

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