He loved people and led by example. He told stories with his whole body, especially his hands. He was a hero who answered the call, no matter the risk. He hated hiking Half Dome (and often threw up). He was a deliberate man who made memories on purpose.
The solemn, meaningful and silly details of Long Beach Fire Capt. David Rosa’s life were on display at a memorial service Tuesday—just more than a week after he was shot while responding to a call. About 8,000 people attended the service at the Long Beach Arena.
As he spoke to the crowd, Rosa’s son Alec recalled hearing the news of his father’s death.
“I just sat there after the call,” he said. “I thought, my dad’s a fireman, firemen aren’t supposed to get shot.”
Alec cried that day for 10 hours, he said, only stopping when numbness and the physical pain from sobbing overcame him.
The audience Tuesday was filled with public safety officials from all departments—CHP, sheriffs, police, fire—from cities across the continent: Vancouver, Canada, Virginia, Seattle and even Long Beach, Mississippi.
“We understand that each time the bell rings or a call goes out, the lives of our first-responders hang in the balance,” Rev. Tim Buzbee, a chaplain with the Long Beach Fire Department, said in the opening prayer.
Alec, 26, spoke about the day he got the news, the morning of June 25, after Rosa had rushed into a retirement facility in Downtown Long Beach. Police say a man who lived in the building had set off an explosion in his apartment and shot at firefighters when they arrived, killing Rosa and injuring Ernesto Torres, who served as a pallbearer at Tuesday’s funeral.
“I will never forget that moment, when you hear something like that. It doesn’t register at first,” Alec said.
The fact that his father wasn’t coming back slowly started to sink in, he said; the “fact that I couldn’t call him anymore, I couldn’t ask for his advice, I was never going to be able to drop by the station and hang out, talk about life.”
Several speakers talked about Rosa’s dedication to family. John Weninger, a longtime friend, said Rosa took his role as a husband and father seriously.
“He put it first,” Weninger said. “The most important job of a man is being a good father, and part of being a good father is being a good husband.”
In the morning, during the procession into the arena, silence contrasted with noise: the drone of bagpipes and heavy equipment flying above; the quiet steps of fire officials walking in neat rows; the white-gloved members of a color guard passing dozens of giant wreaths sent from stations, unions and departments across the country.
Three firefighters stood at attention near the back of the fire truck that led the procession.
There was a deep breath from one, a stifled sob from another, a solemn face on the last.
Their friend’s body lay in a flag-draped casket on the fire truck.
Rosa’s wife Lynley and two sons huddled close behind.
The immediate family of Rosa didn’t want any media attention, but Lynley wrote a short statement—addressed to her husband—for the service program.
“Baby … where are you?” she wrote. “We had so many plans.”
Torres presented Rosa’s younger son, Sam, with a memorial badge. His elder son, Alec, received a memorial badge as well from the firefighters’ union.
“Every firehouse is your home,” said Rex Pritchard, union president, who grew emotional at several points. “Every firefighter is a caring brother or sister. We’re there to lend you a hand and help you out, now, tomorrow and forever.”
LBFD Chief Mike DuRee also grew emotional during his remarks. Getting a call at 4 a.m., he said, is “never a good thing,” recalling the moment he heard the news of the shooting.
DuRee said the incident had gone as planned in the beginning: Rosa assembled his crew, donned safety equipment and headed toward the fire.
In the tragedy that followed, DuRee said, there is still hope in the valor of Rosa’s and others’ actions.
The roughly two-hour service ended with a “last alarm,” the ringing of a bell three times that begins and ends a call to service for firefighters.
Afterward, the family left for a private internment.
In her written message, Rosa’s wife Lynley assured him that “the family is here.”
“The fire family has wrapped us up in a safe cocoon and somehow the world knows about us now, but all I want is to go back in time, not have you walk into that hallway, looking to help, and unaware of what was coming.”
That’s not, however, what Rosa would have thought, she said: “You would take a bullet again to protect us all.”
Additional reporting by Valerie Osier
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