NAPA, Calif. - The California Army National Guard respectfully honored a volunteer firefighter who died in the Northern California wildfires.
An element from Cal Guard's 49th Military Police Brigade organized a last-minute formation at the Napa County Sheriff's Office for a Joint Remembrance Service, an act normally given to a service member. The quickly organized gesture followed an earlier unexpected formation, when Soldiers lined a street and saluted the fallen firefighter as a police convoy escorted him into the compound.
"It didn't matter if he was a civilian or not. He's here like we are, fighting fires. We're all in this together," said Col. Robert Paoletti, 49th commander. "This is the least we can do for someone who gave up his life."
Workers from the California Office of Emergency Services, volunteers and Sheriff Office administrators joined the brief ceremony. They united with 49th Chaplain (Capt.) David Evans as he recited a prayer for the departed. It was a military-led remembrance for a civilian on the front lines.
"That was really an honorable gesture by the California Guard," said Napa County Sheriff John Robertson. "They went out of their way to organize this, and (the victim) isn't even one of them or us. This was very respectful on the Guard's part."
The late ceremony was an idea by Spc. Kobi McGuire of the 330th Military Police Company. He was one of the Soldiers who saluted the passing convoy, and thought that wasn't enough for the victim.
"It felt like we had to do more. He just gave up his life. This (ceremony) was just the right thing to do," said McGuire, who approached his immediate leadership with the plan, and then they took it higher. "Everyone who serves this country should get the same respect."
The victim, who hails from Missouri, was driving a water truck, Robertson explained. Details of his death were not released.
"Everyone in the building wanted to come out and be a part of this, to feel this," said Kim Henderson, Napa Sheriff's Office administrator who was part of the ceremony. "It was something so honorable for the Soldiers to do."
More than 40 have died from the Northern California wildfires. More than 100,000 have been displaced, seeking temporary homes in shelters and evacuation sites as much as 75 miles away. More than a dozen simultaneous fires have scorched California's Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.