“This was a tragic loss for the community, the CAL FIRE community and the Riverside County Fire Department,” CAL FIRE Southern Region Chief David Fulcher said in a press conference.
A scene no fire department wants to respond to: a helicopter crash that took the lives of three people.
Two of them are their own.
“It’s a great impact on our fire family,” CAL FIRE Captain Richard Cordova said.
Captain Cordova worked closely with the firefighters on board, sharing what they meant to our local CAL FIRE family.
For some, these men were more than just colleagues, they were friends.
“These two individuals were well known within the Riverside County Unit,” Captain Cordova continued. “Great individuals, great firemen, great mentors for our department and overall, just great people. They were always there, with a smile on their face, always willing to help out, and in my understanding, great family individuals also. That’s a great tragedy, not only to our fire family, but also the family members that lost their loved ones.”
All of this happened while battling a fire in Cabazon, saving other people’s livelihoods in the process.
“While engaged in the fire fight, two helicopters collided,” Chief Fulcher explained. “The first helicopter was able to land safely nearby. Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed and tragically all three members perished.”
This year has already been one of the deadliest for first responders across Riverside County.
But while this accident happened in our county, it affects many more than just our department.
“One of them was Assistant Chief Josh Bischof. He was assigned to Sacramento,” Captain Cordova continued. Then, Fire Captain Tim Rodriguez. He was signed out of Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base. Then the contract pilot, Tony Sousa. His company was assigned out of Sacramento as well.”
And for their fellow firefighters who had to respond to the scene for their fallen friends, its impact cannot be put into words.
“Even during that incident, they continued doing their jobs, putting those fires out,” Captain Cordova shared. “They wrapped everything up, went back to their fire stations and continued to run calls. Unfortunately, still having all that weight on their shoulders on what just occurred here.”
But the outpouring of support hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Keep your thoughts and prayers along with our firefighters within the county and also those family members that lost loved ones,” Captain Cordova said. “Again, they were great people. Continue to support us and pray for those individuals. That’s all we can ask for right now.”
While memorial service dates are still undecided, CAL FIRE is working closely with firefighters in their department.
They are continuing to provide peer support services, making sure they and their family members are getting the help they need during this difficult time.