Three firefighters killed in a helicopter crash while trying to save an 11-year-old girl were lauded Saturday as the nation’s heroes who made “the ultimate sacrifice.”
Black-wreathed engines carrying the men’s caskets led dozens of firetrucks the 18 miles from their stations to downtown. About 3,000 firefighters from across the nation then passed under an arch of ladders as they entered the Los Angeles Sports Arena for the memorial service.
Michael A. Butler, 33, Michael D. McComb, 48, and Eric F. Reiner, 33, died March 23 when their air ambulance lost its tail rotor and went down while ferrying the badly injured girl from a traffic accident. The girl, Norma Vides-Anaya, also died. Two other firefighters suffered serious injuries and remained hospitalized.
Those killed were eulogized for making “the ultimate sacrifice one can make as a firefighter,” said Alfred K. Whitehead, president of the Washington-based International Association of Fire Fighters. “They are Los Angeles’ heroes; they are America’s heroes.”
It was the second time in as many weeks that mourners donned armbands and filed somberly into services for a Los Angeles firefighter.
Capt. Joseph Dupee was found in the rubble of a burning South Central warehouse on March 8. He was the first city firefighter killed in the line of duty in 14 years.
“None of us were prepared 14 days later to mourn another three,” said fire Chief William Bamattre.
In the weeks since Dupee’s death, the city has come under scrutiny for budget cuts it has made to the fire department. On Friday, the City Council restored $3.8 million in funds to the department - about half of the amount cut in February.
“We will not let our fire department down,” Councilman Joel Wachs pledged. “A helicopter fell but three angels soared.”