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Memorial to Honor State's Fallen Firefighters

Monument: Names of 855 who have perished since 1850 will be on the centerpiece. Statues will be unveiled Saturday.

April 01, 2002|JON ORTIZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO -- When the tree fell on firefighter Kenny Enslow near Redlands, it split his helmet into four pieces. He died four days later, the eighth of 12 California firefighters killed in the line of duty in 1990.

"That was a long time ago," said Redlands Fire Chief Mel Enslow, Kenny's father. "Now, it's almost like he's with us again."

That is because the fallen Enslow's face is cast in bronze for a statue that is part of the California Firefighters' Memorial to be unveiled Saturday a few hundred feet from the steps of the Capitol.

Southern California artist Lawrence Noble used a photograph of Enslow as a model for "Holding the Line," a 14-foot-high 1,800-pound statue depicting three firefighters feeding a fire hose to a fourth.

"Holding the Line" is one of three elements in the new Capitol Park memorial. A beige limestone Memorial Wall is the centerpiece, bearing the chiseled names of the 855 California firefighters who have perished in the line of duty since 1850. "Fallen Brother," a second statue crafted by retired battalion chief and sculptor Jesus Romo of Sacramento, depicts one firefighter carrying another. It will stand near the wall and overlook a small stone courtyard.

"We're thrilled that our dream of honoring our fallen brothers and sisters is finally about to become a reality," said Dan Terry, president of the California Professional Firefighters and its nonprofit arm, the California Fire Foundation.

Although the timing suggests another tribute to the heroism of Sept. 11, the memorial is the culmination of a 10-year campaign that began when Terry saw a national firefighter wall of names in Colorado Springs.

"The first thing that struck me was how many names from California were on that wall," Terry said. "The second thing that struck me was how many people from California would never see it."

According to the California Fire Foundation's research, 169 firefighters statewide succumbed to injury or illness caused by their jobs from 1990 to 2001, about 14 deaths per year and up from the average of 5.6 deaths per year since California became a state.

The California Professional Firefighters, which represents 30,000 career firefighters and emergency medical service workers statewide, took up the idea and began applying its considerable political clout. The union's PAC is a regular campaign contributor, donating more than $573,000 in 2000, mostly to Democrats, and another $384,000 last year, according to the secretary of state's office.

The organization lobbied for the California Firefighters' Memorial, and in 1992 Gov. Pete Wilson signed Assembly Bill 3198 that gave the project space--and not much else--in Capitol Park.

"We had permission, but no money," Terry said.

A grass-roots movement started in community firehouses as word about the planned memorial spread. "Locals did car shows, golf tourneys, whatever they had to do to raise money," Terry said.

The foundation's goal was to erect and maintain the $2-million project strictly through private donations. Crucial to the plan was convincing the Legislature to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue special firefighter license plates with proceeds going to the memorial. Since 1993, 16,000 plates have been sold, netting $1.3 million for the project.

Another $900,000 came through a voluntary tax checkoff on the state income tax form that allows taxpayers to allocate a portion of anticipated tax refunds to charitable causes, said Carroll Wills, spokesman for the firefighters group.

Organizers said that planning and constructing a memorial in a park that already has commemoratives to war veterans and police officers went smoothly, largely because they invited suggestions from everyone with a stake in the outcome.

"We did a study to guarantee that our memorial wouldn't be more than half the size of the adjacent war memorial," Wills said. "We talked to anyone who would talk to us, and we listened."

Wills said that ongoing dialogue and sensitivity to integrating the memorial into the existing park helped the project proceed smoothly and on budget.

"It's rare for a project to go this smoothly," Wills said.

Just ask New York. There, fire officials changed plans to erect a memorial based on the now-famous photo of three white firefighters raising an American flag over the rubble of the Twin Towers. The statue planned for outside the Brooklyn Fire Department headquarters drew severe criticism after fire officials announced a change to depict the group as racially and ethnically diverse.

Organizers of the California memorial said they had no such trouble. "Our memorial reflects 150 years of firefighting history, not just one event," said Terry McHale, executive director of the California Fire Foundation. "California has a diverse work force, and the statues in the memorial reflect that."

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