Jul 1, 2010 9:39 PM by Ariel Wesler
A memorial service shuts down streets in Ventura to remember a Vandenberg firefighter lost at sea.
32-year-old Sean Fleming disappeared while kayaking off the Gaviota coast June 19th. After an intensive five-day search, only his backpack and kayak turned up.
Fleming spent 12 years with the Vandenberg Fire Department as a leader on its rescue unit.
In a memorial usually reserved for retirees, traffic came to a halt to remember Sean Fleming.
"It does take your breath away when you find out that somebody in the prime of his life, 32 years old, that's been such an instrumental part of the department, meets a tragedy like this. It seems surreal," said Vandenberg Fire Chief Mark Farias.
19 firetrucks led a procession from the church to the Ventura pier, where a wreath was sent out to sea. Fire crews from San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties all showed up, whether or not they personally knew Sean.
"We work together in a lot of situations, mutual aid campaigns, on big brush fires. . .the fire engine pulls up next to you and that's the group you're working with, that's one of your family members at that point in time," said Fillmore Asst. Fire Chief Bill Herrera.
Sean's firetruck was number five. It was part of his life for the twelve years he worked the front lines. He loved the outdoors and the water. He was a confident swimmer as part of the vandenberg's water rescue unit, but many say he never bragged about his talents.
"When he did talk, he was always endearing. He was a joker. He was the first guy to meet new people when they arrived at the department," Farias said.
With Sean still missing, finding closure will take time. What his family has found is a wealth of compassion among friends.
"The world gets smaller during times like this as you can see the turnout we've had and old friends, retirees, folks that just met him in passion felt he made enough of an impression to come here and salute him one last time," Farias said.
Sean's family lives in Oxnard. He is survived by his parents and three older siblings. Vandenberg hasn't lost an active firefighter in over 30 years.
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