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State and national fire officials honor Redding-based smokejumper at memorial

Published On: Jun 23 2013 09:56:14 PM CDT
REDDING, Calif. -

A Redding-based smokejumper, killed in the line of duty, was remembered on Sunday.

The Redding Civic Auditorium was packed with people honoring Luke Sheehy, 28, who died two weeks ago while fighting a fire.

It was somewhat of a private service for Sheehy, filled with family, friends of the family, and members of the fire community.

Members of the media were asked to stay outside.

The ceremony was a fitting tribute for a close-knit group of firefighters who can relate to each other on a daily basis.

“We spend as much time, sometimes even more time together, as firefighters than we do with our own family," said CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott.

Sheehy’s family, both relatives and those who considered him a firefighting brother, shared the strong bond felt in the auditorium. They all showed up to pay their respects to the man known by the Redding smokejumpers base as the "Pale Rider."

“It's a very strong bond, as you can imagine,” said Oregon-based smokejumper spotter Ralph Sweeney. “We do a fairly dangerous job. We do it safely, and we do it well. To have that, you need to have ultimate trust in each other."

Both state and national officials turned out. United States Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell was present, coming to Redding all the way from Washington, D.C.

"It's a fairly close-knit community. Days like this, it helps everyone to be able to come together," said Tidwell.

Many in attendance know what it's like to be in those dangerous positions.

“Many of us started out as seasonal firefighters. We know what it's like to work together,” said Pimlott. “Today's service was just a fitting tribute to who Luke was."

It was a service filled with about 1,500 people, with musical acts and stories to reflect on the common bond.

"You can go several years without seeing them. But you will always remember the time you jumped with them,” said Sweeney. “When you jump with them again, it's just like you never lost touch."