3,300 Mourn Firefighters
Killed in Helicopter Crash
Nicholas Reiner, 9, son of
Fire Department paramedic
|Memorial: More than 200 trucks,
ambulances lead procession to Sports Arena, where Riordan refers to victims as
heroes who gave their live on a mission of mercy.
By LARRY GORDON
TIMES STAFF WRITER
T hree sets of boots, helmets and
firefighter jackets rested on the black carpeted floor of the Los Angeles Sports Arena on
Saturday. The belonged to three men who would never wear them again, three who died trying
to save the life of a child.
In the surrounding seats, some 3,300 people gathered to honor three members of
the Los Angeles Fire Department who were killed Monday in the crash of a helicopter
ambulance in Griffith Park.
The joint memorial services for Michael A. Butler, Michael D. McComb and Eric F.
Reiner was an all too familiar ritual of mourning for a department that lost another
firefighter in action just three weeks ago.
Once again, the bagpipes aired their sad tunes and fire station
bells rang 10 times to signify a fallen comrade. An immense procession of fire trucks
again glided through the city and an army of black uniforms silently marched behind
engines bearing coffins.
They were engaged in an endeavor that is the consummate measure of human
endeavor that is the consummate measure of human greatness, and they gave their lives for
that most noble of causes---the protection and the safety of others. Alfred K.
Whitehead, general president of the International Assn. of Fire Fighters said during the
A mountain of floral arrangements lined the podium behind the dead mens
equipment. Large video screens displayed photos of paramedics Butler and Reiner, close
friends who were both 33, and of McComb, an apparatus operator who would have turned 49 on
COLE / Los Angeles Times
|Maria Rosario Butler, paramedic Michael Butler's wife, is
consoled by Capt. Kenneth Buchan.
Whitehead read a message of sympathy sent by President
Clinton from his trip in Africa. The president and others also refereed sorrowfully to
Norma Vides, the 11-year-old Sun Valley girl who died in the crash while being taken from
the scene of a San Fernando Valley car wreck to Los Angeles Childrens Hospital in East
The cause of the accident is under investigation.
In addition, speakers repeatedly mentioned Capt. Joseph Dupee, who became the
departments first fatality in 13 years when he was killed in an industrial building
blaze March 8.
We gather for the loss of three more fallen heroes. Mayor Richard
Riordan told the audience.
With our sorrow, we also celebrate their lives, the lives of heroes who gave
their lives on a mission of mercy, a mission that has brought them to heaven.
Other speakers included Cardinal Roger M Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of
Los Angeles, and Fire Department Chief William Bamattre.
They were engaged in an endeavor that is the
consummate measure of human greatness, and they gave their lives for that most noble of
causes--the protection and the safety of others.'
ALFRED K. WHITEHEAD
International Assn. of Fire Fighters
RICARDO DE ARATANHA/Los Angeles Times
More than 200 vehicles on the San Diego Freeway lead funeral procession for
Fire Department members.
ROBERT GAUTHIER/Los Angeles Times
Figueroa Street is filled with firefighters who
came throughout the country
for the memorial.
Los Angeles Opera soprano Elissa Johnston sang
Amazing Grace. and the Hollywood Bowl Brass Ensemble and St. John Eudes Choir
Sitting in the front row seats often reserved for basketball fans were the widows
and families, Butlers wife, Maria Rosario, is four months pregnant with their first
McComb is survived by his wife, Lorene, three grown children and four
Reiners wife, Lisa, and their two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from
2 to 9, later told reporters how proud they were.
I love my father very much, He taught me to have no fear, and I know he is in
heaven, said Jessica, 7. She wore a pink dress and spoke quickly, reading from a
piece of paper.
Nine-year-old Nicholas, dressed in a blue suite, echoed his sister and added:
Now I am the man of the house.
Their mother managed to hang onto a smile as the youngsters spoke. Then she
explained why, in a sea of black clothes, she wore a stylish red dress and Hawaiian flower
lei to the service: It was in memory of a wonderful trip she and her husband had taken to
Hawaii last year.
Earlier in the day, Nicholas Reiner saluted while a trumpet sounded at
Arletas Fire Station 81, where Reiner and Butler were based.
Two flags were lowered as part of a somber ceremony. In the stations
driveway, two fire engines bore the mens coffins.
Darline Spaihour, 76, walked eight blocks from her home to the Arleta station to
pay homage to the fallen firefighters.
She said paramedics had helped her husband when he fell and broke three ribs
I hear the sirens all the time, and they always make me feel better to know
they are close, she said. My heart just goes out to the families.
A similar ritual was held at Fire Station 90 in Van Nuts, where McComb worked.
There, an engine carried one of his fire jackets under floral tributes. (There was
no coffin because McComb, a Crestline resident who was planning to retire this summer
after 26 years of service, was to be cremated.)
The two processions of fire equipment and cars converged and drove the 20 miles or
so on freeways toward the Sports Arena in Exposition Park.
A large array of engine from other cities in on Figueroa Street. In all, more than
200 trucks and ambulances, all flashing lights. participated.
Meanwhile, about 1,500 firefighters from across the United States and Canada
assembled on Exposition Boulevard, then walked in rows of 20 behind the coffins and
bagpipers to the arena. Two fire trucks outside the arena extended their enormous ladders,
skyward and crossed them to form a gateway for the mourners. The Vancouver, Wash.,
department had dispatched men to Dupees funeral two weeks ago and again Saturday.
Its a double whammy. said Andrew Smith, part of the contingent.
But thats part of what being a firefighter is. We know that what happened to
Dupee and to the guts on the chopper can happen to any of us.
Helicopter pilot Steven L. Robinson and crew member Dennis Silgen survived the crash and
remain hospitalized at USC University Hospital in serious but stable condition, fire
Investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Fire Department
into the crash of the 22-year-old helicopter are focusing on, among other things, a tail
rotor that appeared to have disintegrated moments before the accident.
Times staff writers Megan Garvey and Patrick Kerkstra contributed to