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In Our Darkest Hour: Remembering The Best Among Us

Monday, October 30, 2006 |

As Firefighters from across the nation prepare to honor our fallen Forest Service colleagues killed while battling the Esperanza Fire in Riverside County, California, we've been reminded of the goodness of so many who reach out to help members of the Fire Service in our time of sorrow and need.

It's hard to believe just five weeks have passed since the men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department were joined by so many Firefighters and friends of the LAFD in celebrating the remarkable life of Captain Lane Kemper.

It remains humbling to be approached daily by friend and stranger alike who share words of solace and respect for the passing of this Fire Service icon. Among the many who were at his service, and countless others unable to attend, has been a common request for the eulogy delivered by Captain Steve Ruda.

Though our hearts remain heavy in the loss of our Brothers at the Esperanza fire, it is our pleasure to share his inspiring words that remind us:

One Person Can Indeed Make a Difference.

One of the Best... If Not The Best

By Stephen J. Ruda

Bagpiper Johnny Keyes led the procession as the color guard made its way past the hundreds of Firefighters and friends that gathered for the funeral of our friend Captain Lane Kemper on September 20, 2006.

The beautiful wife and children of Lane, Rose and Kaylen and Kelsey arrived under escort of Lanes' friend from the Los Angeles Police Department, Bert Quechenberger. Bert and his brother Motor Officers led the limo from the Kemper home to Fire Station 28. Lanes’ 9 year old girls asked who sent them a limo and I told them that their Daddy loved them so much they he wanted them to be treated like movie stars, to which they remarked, "Our Daddy is awesome!" Then they asked me if I was their butler, upon which I replied, "Why, yes I am, at your service."

Task Force 17 met Lanes' body on the apparatus floor of Fire Station 28 and was carried atop Engine 17. Lane’s Apparatus Operator Eddie Riveros was responsible for giving his commander one last response. The members of Task Force 17 looked like an honor guard stationed at Marine Barracks at 8th and I Streets in Washington DC as they ceremoniously carried the casket from the black hearse to their apparatus parked on the apparatus floor at Fire Station 28. The members of Fire Station 28 transformed their quarters from a Funeral Command post to a place of honor for Lane and his family. The hours of preparation by so many were about to take place. Everyone was committed to Battalion John Nowell’s command to dedicate ourselves to Rose Kemper and her girls.

Upon orders from Assistant Chief Rick Garcia, the procession departed 28’s quarters and headed south on Corbin toward the Shepherd of the Hills Church. Apparatus after apparatus and their crews stood at attention rendering Lane their last salute.
Battalion Chief Evan Williams and his procession group stationed the rigs throughout the funeral route. I was able to tell Rose and the girls where the companies were from and who was in command of them that day. Rose was so overwhelmed and kept reminding her children of how many firefighters loved their Daddy.

The church was ready for the procession as Chief Gomez and Captain Carter and others readied the parking lot with the uniform detail. The procession stopped short as Rose and the girls, accompanied by Rose Kemper’s brothers, escorted her through the gauntlet of dress uniformed firefighters, most holding back tears as Eddie and all of 17’s parked their rigs. Once again the organized detail of the members of 17’s carried Lane’s body to the waiting pallbearers and then passed their Brother to the waiting hands of Lane’s brother, Mark Kemper, retired Engineer Mouse Gildhouse, friend, Dave Mock, Fire Captain and family friend Mike Mejia, Engineer Rick Vallata, Fire Captain Steve Romas and Larry Hoerner and teaching partner AO Steve Hall.

Lanes' casket was carried to the base of the altar and Chaplain George Negrete opened the service with prayer and a welcome. For the benefit of those who were not there I would like to place here the words of the eulogy that I was ask to give on behalf of my friend and mentor, Lane Kemper:

"How lucky are we? How lucky are we? How lucky are we to be able to say we knew Lane Kemper? Luckier the person who was able to say that Lane Kemper knew them.

Lane was known to so many as, "Lumpy, Lane O, Big Daddy, Louis and most importantly Daddy".

If you knew Lane Kemper and were asked to explain who he was you have to say, "Well... if you know him no explanation is necessary and if you didn’t know him than no explanation would be satisfactory."

Lane was a man who knew how to make decisions. He knew his most important decisions in life were the following:

1. to decide to have a belief in God
2. to pick the right woman to have as his wife
3. to pick the right career
4. to be a good example to others

Lane knew that it was important to be truthful to him and with others no matter whose feelings he might offend. He was loyal to his convictions and was very successful in life because he accomplished his major decisions about life. He achieved a respect for his Creator. He found a beautiful wife in his Rose. He had his twin girls, Kelsey and Kaylan and he had achieved a reputation, as many firefighters will agree as a Fireman’s Fireman. He was, as Captain Jon McDuffie penned, a man whose actions were always louder than his words, Lane Kemper accidentally achieved what many spend their whole lives trying to attain, IMMORTALITY.

Born and raised in Van Nuys on March 7, 1952 to a firefighting Father, John and his Mother, Berle. Lane grew up the middle son of three brothers. Van Nuys High kept him busy as a member of a club known as the "Ambassadors". Friendship and education kept him busy until 1976 when the City of Los Angeles made the best decision it could that year when they hired Lane as a Los Angeles City Fireman.

Engineer Mike Martin recalled, "Everywhere Lane was assigned it soon became apparent that he had both the ability and the desire to accept any task, on or off the fireground and achieve the end results in an expedient and professional manner."

Every one of us owes Lane a debt of gratitude for setting the standard for character. That character was built on the simple building blocks of competency, kindness, generosity, loyalty and a genuine desire to teach us what he knew. Lane was successful as well as significant. The difference between the two is that when you die, your success comes to an end. When you are significant you continue to help others long after you are gone. Our Lane strived to be significant.

Saint Paul wrote, "Rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perservance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope". Lane’s hope for us was twofold:

First, be the best that you can be when duty calls and even when it doesn’t. He wants us to know that every door you force open, every bolt you cut and every steel door you breach do it with perseverance knowing that Lane will always be behind you whispering in your ear, "Take your time, be safe and get it done, and most of all get it open."

Secondly, Lane empowers us to take his place teaching the uninformed and to care for his beloved widows and orphans. If not us then who? If we don’t take Lane’s place then Lane’s immortality will be for nothing.

Lane knew when diagnosed 5 months ago that hard times could possibly come, but he showed us that deep faith, friendship, a great sense of humor and a strong commitment to your goals would turn today’s sadness into tomorrow’s triumphs.

Lane our Brother you will be missed."

Certainly the hardest thing I have ever done but a true honor to be asked. Rose Kemper asked me to include in the ceremony a letter from her as well. The following is the letter that was read on behalf of Rose Kemper:

~ ~ ~

"As many of you know Lane was diagnosed with esophageal cancer 5 months ago. This news shook our world upside down. For many days we couldn’t eat or sleep, we just talked and cried and held each other. Lane was never much of a talker, but boy did he make up for that. We talked about everything under the sun. The most surprising thing he spoke of were his wishes for his funeral. In that oh so familiar little voice of his he said, "If I am still on duty, not yet retired I want a Fire Department funeral." I said, "What???". He said, "Yep, with all the bells and whistles." So I find myself here today honoring his wishes. And still I know that many of you who knew Lane are surprised at the enormity of this service.

From the time Lane was a little boy he knew that he wanted to be a fireman. He often said the two smartest things he ever did were to get on this job and start a family. Lane and I had 22 wonderful years together. It took us awhile to get married, but it was sure worth it. The single eventful thing in his life was becoming a father. Kaylen and Kelsey were everything to him. He was such a great Dad and such a natural at it. He started reading to the girls when they were infants and continued up until a few weeks ago. He took it upon himself to put them to bed everynight that he was home. He would read them a story then lay on the ground between their beds and holds their hands until they fell asleep. He was always so loving and patient with his girls. The hardest thing for him was to know that he wouldn’t see them grow up. So Kaylen and Kelsey, my job along with all of Dad’s family and friends will be to help you remember your Daddy always. From his silly stories about bangies to the many school projects he helped you design, you were his little cookies and know that he loved you more than anything else in the whole universe.

Lane had such a huge heart and could never say no to anyone. In his final days his heart is what kept him going. Those of us that were with him said. "We always knew he had a big strong heart, but we didn’t realize just how big and strong."

Lane loved his job. Being a Fireman was everything to him. In the last few months we decided to renovate our backyard. We hired a friend of ours who is a contractor and thought we could keep this strictly a business project. But as many of you know word got out and before you knew what hit us the LAFD was on it. They assisted with completing the backyard project and the results just so beautiful. Thanks to Gary for being so patient with our Fire Department family. And thank you to all of the LAFD's bravest who stopped by to mow the lawn, pour concrete, landscape or just to say hello to Lane.

Although Lane was involved in many charity events and many projects to help out fellow firefighters he was so amazed at the response of help that we received. It was so difficult for him to accept your help. But it brought him great joy. The many calls and cards that we have received in the last 5 months have been incredible. And for a guy who never liked the phone... well he was the first one to reach for it everytime it would ring. He was always happy to talk to whoever was on the other end.

So from the bottom of my heart and from Lane, Kaylen and Kelsey we thank you for being such a wonderful and great family. It is important for his Fire Department family to know that he loved you so much. Each and every friend held a special place in that huge heart of his. You are all the greatest! You were his family in the truest sense. Thank you for being a part of his life. You made him the man he was and each time the girls and I see a fire truck go by we will remember our Lane Kemper, a great Dad, loving husband and a fireman."

~ ~ ~

Lane’s brother Mark and Rose’s niece Rosemary Immordino gave personal remarks that touched our hearts. Fire Chief Bill Bamattre presented Rose with Lane’s badge and Barry Hedberg presented Rose with the retirement badge. Staff Assistant Tufts was asked to present the Commemorative Bible. Councilman Tom LaBonge spoke on behalf of a grateful City of Los Angeles. The Church was then opened for comments from of the attendees. It was the words and remembrance of co-worker and friend Larry Hoerner that brought a fresh breeze of humor into our midst. Larry was able to make us laugh when we all felt like crying as he read off a list of Lane’s philosophies. He also read a bogus performance evaluation that was written by then Captain Mike Perez and Mike Bowers. It was as if Lane was amongst us laughing himself in the style that made him so endearing to us all.

Ray Walker and Jeff Ferguson filled the church with their great voices as they sang "Comrades Now at Rest", George Negrete gave us his closing encouragements as Rick Denning read the meaning of the "Ten Bells". Lane’s Apparatus Operator Eddie Riveros rang the bells out.

The procession to the cemetery was organized even to the points of when the Amtrak train and Metrolink were crossing at the time of the procession, and even they never showed.

The most impressive part came when the children of Chatsworth Park Elementary stood along the corner of Topanga Canyon Blvd and Devonshire Street. They were wearing small firefighter helmets and waving American flags. It was a moment when time stood still and the innocence of small children gave Captain Lane Kemper his last farewell as his entourage passed silently into the small cemetery known as Oakwood Memorial. It is there Rose buried her husband and I encourage you from time to time to stop by his resting place which is tucked away in the northwest corner among the pines and tell Lane what’s going on.

For those who wish to memorialize Captain Kemper, we welcome your words of condolence as well as funds to help us support his twin "cookies", who turned 9 the day after their Father died. With your help, we will make sure they never walk alone. Your tax-deductible donation may be sent to:

Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association
Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firemen’s Fund
2900 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, California 90026

To assist those killed in the Esperanza Fire, please send your donations to:

Esperanza Firefighters Assistance Fund
PO Box 1645
Riverside, California 92502

Thank you for always remembering The Best Among Us - and those they leave behind.

Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department

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redcup56 said...

There should have been a disclaimer at the beginning about having tissue ready.

Brian: Thank you for posting this.

And thank you to Captain Ruda for delivering the eulogy and sharing it. Also, thank you for contributing to the Flight 93 National Memorial with your inspiring words. Lastly Captain Ruda, thank you for being a member of the LAFD.

Stay safe!

Portland, OR

Anonymous said...

Again, my thoughts and prayers to the entire LAFD family. Thanks to Brian Humphrey for putting this together; Captain Ruda's words took me right back to the day of Lane's services. It was a fitting tribute to an outstanding man. I was very sad then, and saddened again reading this tonight, and saddened when I think about the new firefighters coming on the job that will never have met Lane personally. That thought reminds me to attempt to immulate his character, continue to teach HIS forcible entry techniques, and to continue to always give to the Fire Service that gives so much to us. Bless the members of the LAFD.

Josh Roten, Captain
Roseville F.D.

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