The Tule River Fire Department, in partnership with The Tule River Native Veterans Post 1987, hosted a 27 mile run from the Tule River Fire Station to Centennial Park in Porterville on Thursday to honor Porterville’s two fallen firefighters, Fire Captain Raymond “Ray” Figueroa and Firefighter Patrick Jones.
“Today, we have coordinated a memorial run in honor of the two firefighters involved in this incident at the library in Porterville,” said Brook Franco, member of the Tule River Tribe. “The Tule River Tribe has established a really great working relationship with the City of Porterville. This is our surrounding community. This is where we shop, where we bring ourselves and our families, so we wanted to be able to show that support to them and be here today. We wanted to let the community know that we support them, that we are here to show them that we all stand together. When things like this happen in our community we all come together. We are all one unit. When things like this happen it’s tragic. It’s devastated our community these past couple of days.”
As participants gathered at the Tule River Fire Department before 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, students and teachers from Towanits School, as well as the school’s principal Dana Harness, paraded down the street shouting “We love our firefighters.” This display of support put a smile on a lot of faces, and the students were welcomed into the department with open arms.
“Porterville is such a small community and we want to support our fire station,” said Harness. “They’re doing this amazing thing to honor the firefighters that were lost. We wanted to be a part of that and show our support. We love our firemen.”
William McDermont, who helped coordinate the run, said the Tule River Fire Department has been in mourning for its Porterville brothers.
“The fire departments, you know, we’re like a band of brothers and with the incident that happened in town, we wanted to show our respect for the firefighters,” said McDermont. “(The run) is just a way we can show our gratitude.”
Aaron Franco, the Battalion Chief for the Tule River Fire Department, shared similar sentiments.
“Along with all the fire departments, we care about our fellow firefighters,” said Franco. “Anytime that any firefighter is hurt, it affects all of us. They support us, we support them.”
The group of runners took off shortly after 9 a.m. and arrived to Centennial Park after noon. Before finishing their run down Main Street, they gathered near the Bank of the Sierra to finish the run as a large group.
Flags waved behind the lead runners as they made their way down the final stretch of the 27 miles. Once they reached Centennial Park, the group ran straight to the memorial the Porterville community created under the park’s gazebo. Flowers, candles, hand written notes and more were displayed on the ground. With somber faces, the runners gathered around to pay their respects to the City’s fallen heroes.
As far as tribal items that may have been lost in the Porterville City Library fire on Tuesday, Franco was still unsure of just how much was lost.
“We are not too sure yet if there are artifacts, but we do know that there are a lot of archives and history there that is priceless. It will never be able to be replaced,” said Franco. “It’s really sad. It’s a really sad thing to experience in my lifetime because it’s been very important to our people to revitalize and bring back the culture and traditions. In the last four years, women in our community have been working really hard on that, and there has been a time when our elders couldn’t even have resources and practice their culture and tradition. The culture and tradition could very well be lost if we don’t have this kind of information available to us and documentation that could help us.”