Brent Allen Lovrien took an oath, reciting it almost 11 years ago, that he would "faithfully serve the city of Los Angeles in the discharge of my duties as a firefighter to the best of my knowledge and ability, so help me God."
On Friday morning, family, friends and colleagues recounted Lovrien's commitment to that oath and the work that ultimately cost him his life. About 4,500 people gathered for his funeral at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
"Those of us in fire service, we know that on any day we could be called upon to act in similar dangerous situations," Los Angeles Fire Chief Douglas Barry said. "Brent knew this and accepted it, and we are proud of his service. All of us are hurt deeply by his loss, though."
Before the service, an hourlong procession moved slowly through downtown Los Angeles, and the normally frenetic streets grew quiet and still.
Thousands of firefighters from throughout Southern California parked their trucks along the route, saluted the red casket mounted atop a firetruck and fell in step for the walk to the cathedral.
Dozens of spectators stopped and stared, using their cellphones to take photos of the procession, which started near City Hall.
The casket, with the station number "LAFD 95" etched in white on its lid, arrived at the cathedral under the crossed aerials of the ladder trucks -- symbolizing the community saying "goodbye with honor."
Lovrien, 35, suffered fatal injuries March 26 in an explosion in Westchester as he tried to cut through the metal door of an electrical vault to get to the source of smoke.
He had been among the firefighters who responded to reports of explosions and smoke pouring from a manhole.
The explosion that killed Lovrien also injured fire Engineer Anthony J. Guzman, 48.
Fire officials said Lovrien had no way of knowing that using the saw could trigger an explosion.
Nicknamed "Lovey," he was a hazardous-materials specialist who joined the department in September 1997.
Originally from Norwalk, Lovrien began his service career as an auxiliary firefighter with the Downey Fire Department and was a federal firefighter stationed at the Long Beach Navy base in 1995.
The funeral -- at times somber, at others full of laughter -- started with a statement written by Lovrien's mother, Patricia, who stood by as family friend David Hayes read the tribute. She wrote that her son decided at the age of 6 that he wanted to be a firefighter, always liked to take things apart to see how they worked and was a workaholic.
"He will always be my baby," she wrote, adding that he was "her little turtle."
"He had a hard shell on the outside, but was soft on the inside," she wrote. "He'd do anything for anyone he loved, and he wore that shell well."
Lou Aldana, who met Lovrien when they both started working as firefighters more than a decade ago, drew laughs as he recounted a misadventure that occurred when the two ended up in a patch of poison ivy while taking a shortcut on a mountain biking trip.
His friend, Aldana said, had a "true sense of loyalty."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the crowd, noting that Lovrien's fellow firefighters told him, "Brent would do anything for a friend, but even more for a stranger."
"You can't teach that instinct," Villaraigosa said. "Heroism comes from the heart."
During the city Fire Department's 126-year history, 72 firefighters have died in the line of duty, the last one in 2004, fire officials said.
"A ceremony like this lets the public into our world and reminds of us all the support we have out there," city Firefighter George Ostrovsky said.
As the service came to a close, city fire Chaplain George Negrete asked the firefighters to renew their oath in honor of Lovrien's sacrifice.
Calling it "the first time ever" in department history that such a gesture would be made for a fallen firefighter, Negrete asked colleagues with other departments from San Francisco to San Diego to quietly recite their own oaths.
"I do solemnly swear," thousands of firefighters said, their voices resonating, "that I will faithfully serve the city of Los Angeles in the discharge of my duties as a firefighter to the best of my knowledge and ability, so help me God."