Thursday was an emotional day for Porterville Fire Department personnel as they took the day to commemorate their fallen brothers, Fire Captain Raymond Figueroa and Firefighter Patrick Jones, who lost their lives fighting the blaze that destroyed the Porterville Public Library on February 18, 2020.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, PFD personnel were unable to gather as an organization, but Battalion Chief Bryan Cogburn explained the department took time to reflect on Figueroa and Jones throughout the past week.
"Unfortunately because of the COVID restrictions we are not able to get together other than each station has treated this week as a stand down," said Cogburn. "We wanted the guys to reflect on Ray and Patrick, reflect on the library incident, and really take their time to do some axe maintenance and wear their hats backwards. So we aren't meeting as an organization, but each of the crews are doing things on their own."
The Porterville Fire Department has started a tradition in which every year firefighters will clean their axes in honor of Figueroa, who was known for his love of axes, and wear their hats backwards — something that's normally against policy — in honor of Jones, who loved to wear his hat backwards.
Cogburn said the community has been a powerhouse of love and support that has never quit flowing to PFD personnel.
"The community has been very supportive," said Cogburn. "The support never stopped this year. The support began before the library fire, but it ramped up after the library fire and continued. The regular outreach, the stopping by, the phone calls, greeting us on the street, that really hasn't stopped."
The loss of two heroes hit the community hard, and PFD harder, as it was the first time in the department's history two of their men were lost in the line of duty. However, over the past year PFD has learned just how resilient they can be.
"A double line of duty death is tough for an organization, to say the least, but when you couple that with a pandemic a month after the library fire I think it really stunted our grieving process and really prolonged it," said Cogburn. "To say it has been difficult is an understatement. This year what we have learned is how resilient we are as an organization. The immediate effects of the library fire were devastating. The one month, six month and one year marks were hard in their own ways as well. But with the support of the city, with support from the City Council, city staff and the community, it has really been a huge blessing and benefit to us and has really helped pull us together."