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Thursday, May 1, 2008

The WORST week of our lives...

Well, I have to say that the past week of my life has been more stressful than anything I've ever been through before. On Thursday of last week, two of our Medford Firefighters went missing. My husband was on duty that night, I received an email Friday morning that the all night search effort that involved our off duty firefighters and those who volunteered to help from all over Southern Oregon, as well as Search and Rescue had not solved the mystery of the 2 missing men.

Gale and John were best friends, and often went to a place outside of Medford called John's Peak with the rest of the guys to ride ATV's, motorcycles- and this time, John's new Polaris Razor Side by Side. They left Thursday afternoon, were supposed to be home by 5 - and never returned. With the help of 5 helicopters scanning the area Friday morning, the vehicle was found and the search for the 2 men became a recovery mission. They were found, still strapped in to the vehicle, down a 2000 ft. embankment. Evidently after making the climb up the embankment in the ATV and trying to pass the ridge at the top, the vehicle got hung up and flipped over- which resulted in the two men rolling end to end all the way back down to their death.

They were recovered by men and friends from their department, one of them my neighbor and close friend to my husband Battalion Chief Rohrbough. The recovery took the rest of the day while hundreds of off duty firefighters from around Southern Oregon stood by at the command post on John's Peak.

Gale was an engineer and was hired at the same time as my husband. He has a wife, also named Melissa and two little girls- aged 5 and 7. Melissa and I had our 7 year olds one month apart and often saw each other at our well baby checks. John Wells worked with my husband for 2 years at station 6 before Dan was promoted to engineer - and he was one of the most friendly helpful men I've ever known. My two boys loved him, every time we visited daddy at the station- John was there to show them the engines. It didn't matter if we were there the day before, he went through the motions with my boys, lights on, sirens on- lets flip all the switches. You know, spending time showing little boys what it means to be a real life hero.

I have never in my life seen men grieve this way. It has truly broken my heart to see them this way. It sounds cliche- the "brotherhood" of firefighters- however they eat, sleep and breathe together day in and day out. We are family. We watch each other's kids, we go on vacations together, we support each other through difficult times, we help build each others homes, we grow old together...

In a few short days, we had to prepare for the largest Firefighter Memorial Service the state of Oregon has ever seen. Never has the city of Medford Fire. Dept lost 2 men in one day and we are one of the larger departments in Oregon. The family and firefighters pulled together, we worked day and night to accommodate the families and their requests.

The Memorial Service took place Wednesday- proceeded by a procession through town to the reception, which consisted of 80 engines from all over the state of Oregon. This was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. My husband is responsible for the Arial Ladder Truck at Medford's Station 4. He was responsible for hanging the American Flag from his engine, and another from Central Point for the procession to pass through on it's way to the reception. Again, one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. The progression began as the families got into their escorted vehicles, while the bagpipers played Amazing Grace.

Below are photographs of our day... the service was spectacular, and honored greatly the 2 men that served their community, saved lives, and risked their own on a daily basis. I am so proud to be a part of this department as a wife. I'm so proud of my husband and the other men who pulled this whole thing together. You are all heroes. You are all role models for our children to look up too and deserve our respect, our gratitude and our honor.

Here are the pictures:

walking to the service for family and dept. members

view from the back of the church

Picture Gale

Folding of the flags

Hanging of the flag

beneath the flag

Dan's engine is on the left

As the procession began, we had 8 SAS helicopters fly over in man rescue formation, with one flying with a flag

People waiting to get in, to no avail


Mags said...

Aw - what a sad story!! All of those fire fighters are "rescue heroes" - how hard it must have been for all of them to lose two "brothers" that day! I've said a prayer for both families.

Camille said...

Oh my word. I am so sorry for the loss your husband and community has had to suffer. You did a beautiful job with your blog expressing the atmosphere of the memorial service.

Scrapmymemories said...

Oh thats so sad! My husband is a volunteer fire fighter and my heart always jolts hearing these stories! Such a sad loss.