After firefighters held a freeway funeral procession Wednesday for Greg Hennessey, who recently died of a heart attack at a Rancho Santa Margarita fire station, Patch readers had mixed reactions.
Some readers asked whether the procession was handled properly. Readers also brought up questions about the cost of the procession, which involved several Orange County Fire Authority personnel and department vehicles.
The procession was carried out by the Honor Guard, a group of 25 volunteers organized by the charitable Orange County Firefighters Benevolent Association, OCFA spokesman Steve Concialdi said.
"It doesn't cost anything," he said. "These guys are on their own time. They are off-duty."
He said the firefighters saluting the procession from bridges were on duty, adding that they were on-call and available for emergencies at the same time.
Some questioned whether the procession, which was carried out during rush hour, could have been held at a time less disruptive to the flow of freeway traffic.
Concialdi acknowledged that the procession impacted traffic, but said such processions are standard procedure for fallen firefighters and police officers.
"Every time in the state of California a firefighter or police officer is killed in the line of duty, we escort them," he said. "That's standard. That's a universal thing that's showing honor."
Concialdi added that Hennessey's death should remind the public that the hazards attached to emergency work include extreme stress.
"We don't just die in burning buildings," he said. "Forty-five percent of firefighters that die in the line of duty die of a cardiac event. It just shows how stressful the job is. We're there 24/7, 365 days a year. We work 24-hour shifts and we're up multiple times a night."
Here is a selection of reader reactions to the memorial:
- Mike: Firefighters are great, but did they have to do this during morning rush hour[?] Besides the 3 fender benders, thousands of people [were] late due to this untimely event. Many professions are honorable, and it is unfortunate when a husband, and father dies, but to disrupt the economic engine of orange county, and the damage to the 6 vehicles due to this honoring of their brother, is unfortunate as well.
- Kuntheary Tiep: I was deeply moved by the brotherhood of our [firefighters] and it brought me to tears while I drove to work. We are so lucky to live in America, and so many of us unfortunately don't realize that. Coming from a country where citizens had no rights, I felt so proud and honored to be in the presence of such love, compassion and honor to our fallen brothers.
- Richard: I certainly hope that the time spent on the bridge in a tribute to a co-worker was personal time. Also, the picture shows 3 fire engines on the bridge. Is the use of "company" vehicles permitted for non-official use? This firefighter, may he RIP, passed away of causes unrelated to public service. Many others who serve and protect the public and come to harm while doing so do not get this treatment.
- Pete: My uncle died on Monday and I was at O'Connor Mortuary on Tuesday taking care of his arrangements when I witnessed the vigil that the firefighters attend to when one of their own falls. One firefighter in full dress uniform standing outside of the room where his co-worker lies, standing at attention and looking straight ahead with no distraction. In essence guarding the body. Pretty darn impressive and if we had more honor and responsibility like this in our country, we would be better off.
- Eileen: I will always and I say always expect that our public servants are honored when untimely things like this happen. I thank God everyday for them[.] A firefighter saved my [daughter's] life when she went into cardiac arrest. His only concern was to help my child. So if it did cost some of our [tax] dollars it was worth it.
- C M: I think that public servants deserve every possible respect and I'm not worried whether the firefighters were on the clock or not. If there was an emergency I have every confidence that they would have packed up and responded to that call without delay. I do, however, have to agree with Mike. The timing could have been better arranged.