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Dodger Stadium memorial honors 2 firefighters

Fire crews mourn Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones, who died battling the Station Fire last month. The two went 'above and beyond the call of duty,' Biden tells the crowd.

September 13, 2009|Scott Gold

Dodger Stadium has been home, over the years, to iconic moments that have transcended sports -- in 1987, when Pope John Paul II said Mass under a 52-foot steel cross erected in the bleachers; in 1966, when the Beatles held the stadium's first concert amid deafening screams; in 1976, when outfielder Rick Monday raced across the grass to snatch an American flag away from protesters trying to light it on fire.

On Saturday, an unlikely chapter was added when the stadium was handed over to the Los Angeles County Fire Department for a memorial to two firefighters killed in a wildfire high in the Angeles National Forest.

Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, and Firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 34, of Palmdale, died Aug. 30 when their truck fell 800 feet into a ravine.

Though the investigation is unfinished, officials believe Hall and Quinones ordered dozens of people to seek shelter while they fought through flames to search for an escape route from their remote mountain camp.

"There are still acts that go above and beyond duty," Vice President Joe Biden told the audience at the memorial. "Two men tell others to hunker down and race out to find a way out -- it is above and beyond the call of duty. That's real courage."

Handing over the reins of Dodger Stadium to the Fire Department -- for free, incidentally -- made for some unusual touches.

Firefighters hauled in bundles of 50-foot sections of hose, which were fashioned into bunting and hung from the loge level. They also devised their own version of the military's "missing man" flyover formation, sending eight helicopters thundering over the stadium, at least two of which were fresh from water drops in the hills. One of the helicopters spun sharply away from the others.

The section of the scoreboard where umpires' uniform numbers are typically displayed during games was used instead to display the number "16." Hall had worked for eight years and Quinones for four years at Camp 16, a remote prison where they helped supervise inmates trained in wilderness protection.

More than 50 inmates were among those Hall and Quinones helped protect in the moments before the firefighters were killed -- and some of them were in the stands Saturday, clad in their orange prison jumpsuits.

The strong firefighting brotherhood was evident at every turn. Among those in attendance were several firefighters who raced through flames in an attempt to rescue Hall and Quinones, the heat on the hillside so intense it burned the soles of their boots.

Some county firefighters noted that they were able to attend the service only because firefighters from other agencies, including the city of Los Angeles and Orange County, volunteered to staff their stations Saturday morning.

Outside, scores of firetrucks passed under two enormous American flags hanging from fire ladders and ringed the stadium. The arena itself took on the sound and feel of a base camp, as the trucks hissed and rumbled and firefighters shared small towels to buff their dress shoes.

To demonstrate their mourning, most drivers used black electrical tape to slash through the call numbers painted on the sides of trucks: No. 33, from Lancaster; No. 164, from Huntington Park; No. 421, from Compton. Although a crowd estimate was not available, the county had received confirmations from 15,000 firefighters, including crews from New York City and Worcester, Mass.

"We are blind to the fact that we are all from different agencies," said U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Anthony Powers. "We're all here for the same reason -- to support the families and because we all lost somebody."

Powers' crew, the Bear Divide Hotshots, is based in Santa Clarita, and he worked frequently with Hall and the inmate crews on wilderness management, cutting and removing brush to promote tree growth and healthy forests in remote spots including Fat Cat Plantation and Mt. Gleason.

"It's like losing a family member," he said. "It shouldn't happen."

The deaths of Hall and Quinones are considered homicides because the cause of the so-called Station fire -- the largest in modern Los Angeles County history, at 250 square miles -- has been attributed to arson. The fire is expected to be fully contained by Tuesday, though it was still burning Saturday above Sierra Madre and Monrovia, "just over the hills behind me," as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put it as he spoke at the memorial.

To many mourners, it seemed fitting that Los Angeles would pause on Sept. 12 to remember its own, a day after the nation took a moment to honor the heroism of New York firefighters eight years ago.

"We will never forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001," Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Frank Garrido said. "And we will never forget what happened on Aug. 30, 2009."

County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, too, invoked the specter of Sept. 11.

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