Firefighters salute as casket of fallen comrade Joseph C. Dupee
passes en route to Faith Dome service in South-Central L.A.
Thousands Bid Farewell
to Fire Captain
from across U.S. join
family, friend and colleagues at services for
Joseph Dupee, who died on duty. 'Joe, you are a
true hero,' mayor says.
By Larry Gordon
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Los Angeles Fire Capt. Joseph C. Dupee returned Saturday
to Station House 57 on South Vermont Avenue--this final time in a rose-covered coffin atop
the truck he had once commanded.
Then, for the first time since 1984, a Los Angeles firehouse rang the awful 10 chimes that
signify a comrade's death in the line of duty. An estimated 2,300 mourners, most in the
black dress uniforms of fire departments from across the county, watched as five
helicopters blasted overhead in the missing man formation.
Those powerful rituals were part of a daylong tribute to Dupee, 38, who died March 8,
after safely evacuating the rest of his crew from a burning industrial building in
South-Central Los Angeles. Dupee's funeral procession, led by 120 fire vehicles, also
served as a reminder how dangerous firefighting is.
"Now we must face the reality that every day longer without a firefighter's death is
a day closer to the next firefighter's death," said Los Angeles Fire Chief William
Bamattre, in a speech during one of two services. Repeatedly, Bamattre pronounced the one
phrase the audience least wanted to hear: "Firefighters will die."
A 17-year veteran of the city department, Dupee was remembered as a captain who stressed
safety above all and as a religious man fiercely devoted to his wife, Julie, and their two
sons, 2-year-old Lucas and Caleb, born Feb. 25, the fireman's own birthday. At the time of
Dupee's death, a blue wooden stork to announce the new baby still decorated the family's
house near Santa Clarita.
"Joe, you are a true hero. You dedicated your life to protect and serve others. You
wore your badge with honor. You earned the respect and admiration of your
colleagues," said Mayor Richard Riordan during a ceremony at the Faith Dome of the
Crenshaw Christian Center, across the street from the station.
The mayor read a stanza of "Firefighter's Prayer:"
If according to your will
I must lose my life
Oh bless with your
My children and my wife.
Riordan added:"Joe, I know God will do that."
Dupee's widow and children attended the fire station rituals along with other relatives
and friends. Many onlookers grew teary-eyed as Julie Dupee hugged her husband's fellow
firefighters who formed an honor guard at the station door. Lucas seemed excited to see
all the flashing lights of the fire engines and to receive as a gift from another
fireman's wife a department jacket in his size with the name "Dupee" across the
A department spokesman said the widow and children did not attend the morning prayer
service at the 10,000-seat Faith Dome because they wanted to save their energies for a
more intimate afternoon service at their family church, Grace Community in Sun Valley.
During the second service, Chief Bamattre gave Dupee's badge to his widow and pledged that
the department would take care of her and their sons "not just for this week, but for
the rest of their lives."
The private burial was at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Santa Clarita.
The day's events began about 8:30a.m. when the long line of engines and vans, all flashing
lights, started a three-mile drive through South-Central, past the gutted Pacific Bird
& Supply building at Western Avenue and 60th Street where the fatal fire occurred.
(Investigations into Dupee's death are continuing. On Saturday, officials suggested that
he either became disoriented on his way out or was looking for a comrade he mistakenly
thought was being left behind. None of the other 125 firefighters on the scene of the
predawn blaze were seriously hurt.)
With the engine bearing the coffin in the lead, the assembly of firefighters waited in
rows of 20, their badges stripped with mourning ribbons. Then, the entire procession moved
south on Vermont to the fire station at 78th Street. Riordan and Bamattre walked with two
of Dupee's sisters, along with City Council members Rita Walters and Mark Ridley-Thomas
and City Att. James K. Hahn.
Charles Houbem, a New York City firefighter, was on vacation in Oxnard this week when he
heard about the funeral. He called his station in the Bronx and had a friend ship out his
dress uniform. "When one fireman dies anywhere, it affects everybody," he said.
Sacramento firefighter Robert Moore flew down to represent his union local as a show of
solidarity. Although the funeral made him think more about danger, it also showed, he
said, how much support a firefighter's family would receive in case of death. "We
relay on each other a lot." he said.
For the Los Angeles Fire Department, the sadness was mixed with an undercurrent of anger
about budget cuts and staffing reductions. Although Dupee's crew had not been reduced,
department spokesman Capt. Stephen Ruda said the investigation would, among other things,
examine whether the budget loss of a division wide administrative assistant could have
harmed the firefighting effort March 8.
Immediately after graduating from Simi Valley High School, Dupee became a volunteer with
the Ventura County Fire Department. He later joined the Los Angeles department and was
promoted to captain two years ago.
Eric Vasquez, a fellow firefighter at Station 57, recalled an industrial blaze in January
at which Dupee hustled his crew out in time to escape a collapsing roof. "He always
made the right decision, "Vasquez said.
Staff writer Solomon Moore
contributed to this story.