`Band of brothers' mourned.
"No farewell words were spoken
No time to say goodbye
You were gone before we knew it, and only God knows why."
- Words sent from the men of Engine 22, Ladder 13, Battalion 10 of the New York City Fire Department, who lost nine men on Sept. 11, 2001, in honor of the eight men of First Strike Environmental who lost their lives.
ROSEBURG - They played "Amazing Grace," and they played a song called "Heroes."
They spoke of sons and brothers and friends who are fallen but not forgotten.
They said goodbye to the poet and the chef, so long to the skateboarder and the young father, too; farewell to the hunter and the fisherman, the motorcyclist and the guitarist, as well.
For the 1,000 or so mourners who came to the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Friday, the memorial service for the eight firefighters of Roseburg-based First Strike Environmental who died when their van crashed in the desert of Eastern Oregon served as a lesson as well as a time to let go.
The eight men - Jesse James, 22, Leland Price Jr., 27, and Ricardo "Ricky" Ruiz, 19, all of Roseburg; Mark Ransdell, 23, and Paul Gibson, 25, both of Myrtle Creek; Jeff Hengle, 21, of Sutherlin; and Richard Moore II, 21, and David Hammer, 38, of Portland - were returning home on Aug. 24 after two weeks of 12-hour days fighting the South Fork Fire in Idaho's Boise National Forest.
The accident happened about 15 miles west of Vale on Highway 20 when Ransdell, the van's driver that fateful early morning, apparently tried to pass another truck on a curve, crossing a double-yellow line and colliding with an oncoming tractor-trailer, according to police reports. Fatigue and anxiousness to get home have been cited as possible reasons for the crash. The accident spurred a new policy at First Strike that was put in place Thursday: Any crew that's been working a wildfire for 14 days or more gets a ride home.
Ransdell had a clean driving record, First Strike President Bob Krueger said.
Mourners learned at the service that Ransdell also had a passion for skateboarding.
Stationed in front of the amphitheater were easels with eight large photographs of the firefighters, along with mementos from each man and foot-tall bronze statues of wildland firefighters, axes at their sides.
In front of Ransdell's easel was a western-style shirt, three baseball caps, including a fluorescent orange one that read: "Survived 2002 Oregon Biscuit Fire," and his upside-down skateboard.
"He came home many times with trademarks of his sport - nicks, scrapes and bruises," said Justin Krueger, a fellow First Strike employee and Bob Krueger's son, while giving Ransdell's eulogy at the service.
Mark was the second son lost for Dale and Carol Ransdell, whose other son, Michael, died in a car accident in 1994.
Family members of the men sat in plastic chairs on the amphitheater's grass and fanned themselves with programs during Friday's sizzling heat that hovered around the century mark. They held each other and cried through the 90-minute service after being escorted to their seats - mournful bagpipes playing in the background - by an honor guard of firefighters and Forest Service employees from all over the state.
"We're still in shock," said Kathy Moore, mother of the young man who went by "Rich" Moore and who loved playing his guitar as well as driving his 1969 Ford Mustang.
"It makes you feel really good to know that your son is appreciated," said Richard Moore, Rich's father. "(Firefighting) was just something that Rich felt strongly about. He was really proud of what he was doing."
Both Rich Moore and Mark Ransdell spent time in Texas earlier this year with other First Strike employees helping search for pieces of the Columbia space shuttle that exploded in a ball of fire in early February.
Rosa Ruiz, sister of Ricky Ruiz, talked about her "perfect big brother" who might have called her "fat" on occasion while they were growing up, "but when I needed him most, he was always there."
Ricky was the one who could light a room, any room, with his dazzling smile and who discovered a passion for fishing, she said.
Choked by tears, Rosa Ruiz was unable to finish the eulogy, but Bruce Russell, Douglas County Fire District 2 chaplain, stepped into help.
"I love you, bro," Russell read. "Rest in peace. We will miss you."
Jason Spradley, a First Strike employee, gave the eulogy for Gibson, the shy and determined young man who liked to write poetry and kept up with the latest technology to further his aspirations in the computer field.
"When Paul was learning to type, he was so focused on hitting the right keys, he broke the space bar on the computer keyboard," Spradley remembered.
Jesse James was the doting father who could only think of his 3-year-old boy, Kolby, when on the road fighting fires. He, too, loved playing his guitar.
Leland Price Jr., who went by his middle name of David, was the one who wanted to be a pilot as a young boy, but who found motorcycles and dirt-bike racing to be his main thrill as a young man when he wasn't pursuing the adrenaline rush of fighting fire.
His motorcycle helmet sat in front of his easel.
Jeff Hengle was the one they called "Chef Jeff." He had a passion for cooking, graduated from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland and also pursued his studies of Cajun and creole cooking in New Orleans.
His white chef's jacket lay at his easel.
David Hammer was the one who liked to hunt. His easel contained a pair of deer antlers on a plaque. Some of his friends called him "MC Hammer," after the popular early 1990s rapper.
Despite their differences, all shared the passion of fighting fire. In the end, it led to dying young. But they died heroes, Bob Krueger said.
"They were First Strike's band of brothers," he said during the service, "and we will carry them in our hearts with pride and remembrance. We will plant eight trees in tribute to all that they were and might have been."
ON THE INTERNET
Memorial service: More photos from Friday's memorial service for the eight First Strike firefighters can be viewed online at www.registerguard.com/memorialphotos.html
Honor guards made up of various agencies and firefighter groups presented eight flags to represent the eight firefighters who died.
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|Title Annotation:||Hundreds of family, friends gather to remember eight fallen firefighters; Fires|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Sep 6, 2003|
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