It was still dark when the call came across for a fire at a senior apartment building in Downtown Long Beach. On the way there, firefighter Lauren Lupinetti and her crew were informed it had been upgraded to an explosion.

Her job was to designate stairwells and help with other duties. She greeted Capt. David Rosa—the man who had mentored her in her first assignment with the department, who had teased her about her terrible cookies.

Rosa and his crew entered the Covenant Manor high-rise. Moments later, there were gunshots.

Firefighter Ernesto Torres, who had been grazed by gunfire, emerged. Lupinetti helped him remove his gear. At the same time she was wondering who the other injured firefighter was.

“I distinctly remember walking up and people were starting compressions on somebody, and just repeating to myself, ‘Oh my God, that’s Captain Rosa, Captain Rosa, Captain Rosa.’ My mind’s just freaking out a little bit, I had to come to my senses to get in there and help out.”

A year ago, on June 25, 2018, Rosa became the first firefighter killed on duty in Long Beach in 44 years after police say a 77-year-old man, Thomas Kim, opened fire after setting a blaze in his apartment. Kim later died in custody

Rosa’s death shook fire departments throughout the region and left the city reeling; more than 10,000 came to his funeral at the Long Beach Arena.

Two firefighters who were in the midst of the chaos on June 25, 2018, shared their experience with the Post, near the anniversary of Rosa’s death.

‘You’re a firefighter’

At the time of Rosa’s death, Lupinetti had only been with the department for a year, having recently completed her probation. She felt lucky to be assigned to Station 10, where Rosa oversaw the B shift.

She had served with Rosa for six months, her first assignment out of drill school. She was then transferred to Station 1.

“He is probably the most genuine, nicest person I’ve ever met, that you also had the best time with,” she said. “He never made fun of anybody in a malicious way, it was always funny. There was just a respect he commanded without really having to say anything, it was just knowing that he was so experienced and he would always admit his mistakes, too. He was just human, and that’s what made me really respect him and it makes me miss him a lot.”

The morning when gunfire erupted, she overcame the emotion by remembering something Rosa himself had told her: After responding to her first death—a pedestrian-vehicle collision—Rosa and Torres helped her cope.

“[Rosa’s] like, ‘These are the situations you’re going to deal with, you’re a firefighter, it’s your duty to make the situation better,'” she said. 

“So that was a little flash in my mind, like OK, I have to make the situation better, even though in this moment, I’m just frozen and I can’t believe it’s you laying there.” 

She never imagined she would help load him into the back of an ambulance.

“What I was thinking in that moment was his family doesn’t deserve this.”

David Rosa. Photo courtesy the Long Beach Fire Department.
David Rosa. Photo courtesy the Long Beach Fire Department.

The drive to the hospital

After hearing two bangs, LBFD engineer Nick Marantz raced to the rescue vehicle.

“I didn’t see the gurney inside because they had already taken it out so I ran past a couple chiefs, they asked me what happened, I said Rosa got shot, jumped in the ambulance, drove around the block with the doors open already,” said Marantz. “I was driving so fast I thought I was going to flip the rescue.”

Marantz, an engineer, had made the trip to St. Mary Medical Center many times. On that morning, he was so frantic he almost passed the entrance.

While he waited there, Lupinetti was still outside the retirement home. It was close to two hours before the crews waiting at the scene would find out about Rosa’s passing. When they did, Lupinetti hugged one of her closest friends from drill school, the moment captured by a Long Beach Post photographer.

Long Beach firefighters embrace after a firefighter was reported shot at a senior apartment building in Long Beach June 25, 2018. Lupinetti is pictured in the center on the right, hugging one of her closest friends from drill school. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“Once we found out the news, everybody in that area was upset obviously, some were showing signs of being a little bit more angry, some were quiet,” Lupinetti said.

She has the Post photo on her phone, and if she happens to scroll through her image library, she always pauses to look at it, knowing that, at the time, she was comforted by having such a close friend nearby. It still brings her comfort when reflecting on the situation today. She thought it was weird at first, taking comfort from an image of such a tragic event, but everyone processes things differently, she said.

“Now that it’s a year later I’ve gotten to a much better place, but it wasn’t easy by any means. Being at the station, being around people here was nice, but being at home was not fun,” Lupinetti said, holding back tears. “And then driving by that location, the first time I went there I was just angry.”

The months after the shooting 

All Long Beach Fire Department stations have a photo of Rosa, said Lupinetti. 

“I don’t think anybody walks past it and doesn’t think about him and what a great person he was and just how it’s not right that he went that way, at all,” she said.

In the months following Rosa’s death, there’s not a call Marantz has been on that he hasn’t thought, “What am I going to do if someone starts shooting at us,” he said.

“What am I going to say on the radio, where am I going to take cover, how am I going to help my buddies inside, like thoughts I’ve never had before. The fact that it’s even in the realm of possibilities is crazy. It doesn’t change anything that we do, but the fact that it’s even in your head is telling of what happened.” 

Marantz has been with the Long Beach Fire Department for nearly 15 years and was hired a few years after Rosa. They saw each other often. 

“We just had one of those bonds like we had with most of the guys. It’s just the time here, you become so close going to all the calls and hanging out at the station. It’s not like he was my blood family, but at the same time, this hurts as much as losing a brother. I can’t imagine what his wife and kids are going through.”

On the anniversary

Today, on the anniversary of Rosa’s death, Lupinetti will be in San Diego playing softball in the California Firefighter Summer Games, the start of which will always fall around June 25.

She and her team will wear the T-shirts Marantz made as a fundraiser to pay for memorial signs in San Juan Capistrano where Rosa lived with his family, with its purple letters spelling out “Captain Rosa” across the breast. They will honor him with a moment of silence.

Lupinetti said she wants the surrounding community to know how much they appreciate the support they’ve received. 

“Anytime we’re around that specific scene, or I know for us at least, if we’re in a grocery store down off-Broadway people would always come up to us and say, you know I’m really sorry about your loss, we’re really sad to hear that. It’s nice because I don’t necessarily feel fear of still working in this community.” 

Marantz will be at the dedication ceremony of the department’s training center this morning, also wearing one of the T-shirts in Rosa’s memory, the first time the department has ever authorized members to wear a shirt other than the color blue. 

At home, he still has the jacket he was wearing the morning Rosa died. In the pocket is a towel he grabbed while waiting at St. Mary; a little rag he cried and cried into.

“It’s kind of silly,” he said. “The things that you keep.” 

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].