Yesterday the City of San Francisco solemnly laid to rest two of its bravest. My husband and I went with our neighbors (one of whom is a recently retired SFFD firefighter) to the memorial service. We wanted to show our respect and gratitude for these brave heros who made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our city.
In addition to the family and friends of Vincent Perez and Anthony Valerio, firefighters and police officers from all over the nation as well as Canada and Mexico came to honor these men and recognize their selfless service to our city. And there were many members of the public who like us, wanted to pay our respects.
It is difficult to describe what it was like to be there. There was all of the tradition, pomp and circumstance befitting such an occasion. There was great sadness and yet there was also laughter as friends and family members shared stories of Vince and Tony - who they were and how they lived their lives as firefighters as well as sons, brothers, uncles and friends.
As we left the nearby auditorium where we had viewed the service with hundreds of other mourners (the church was so full we never made it in) my neighbor reminded me that I had once met one of the firefighters. Up until that moment I had not made the connection that the friendly and funny fellow wearing a Hawaiian shirt on a sunny day at the SFFD fireboat station was Tony Valerio. The recollections I had just heard about him during the service became very real to me.
The memorial ended with the procession to the cemetery. It was led by two fire engines, each bearing a flag-draped casket, and as they passed by the hundreds of people lining the street, those in uniform saluted while others bowed their heads or placed their hands over their hearts. The engines were followed by at least sixty trucks and engines from firehouses as far away as Los Angeles. As we looked down Gough Street the line of red flashing lights extended to the end of the street where it turned onto Market Street. It was a sight I will never forget.
Rest in peace Tony and Vinnie and thank you for serving us and our community. Thank you for all of those times you got up at 3:00 in the morning and responded to save the life or property of someone you didn't know. Thank you for the days you spent on duty when you could have been at a family bar-b-que or graduation party. And as cliche as it sounds, thank you for being the guys who ran into a burning building when everyone else ran out.