Procession honors fallen Los Padres National Forest firefighter - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Procession through SLO County honors local firefighter killed in crash

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Firefighters on the Central Coast mourned the loss of one of their own Thursday night, filling county overpasses for a procession to honor 47-year-old Gary Helming, a U.S. Forest Service battalion chief who was killed in a crash.

"Anytime we sustain a loss from the fire service, it's difficult," said Deputy Chief Keith Aggson of the San Luis Obispo City Fire Department, which gathered its vehicles and firefighters on the Monterey St. overpass above Highway 101 as Helming's body was returned home to the Five Cities.

Battalion Chief Helming lived in Shell Beach and was stationed in Santa Maria. He died in a car crash while returning home from a shift battling the Railroad Fire in the Sierra National Forest.

Close friend and firefighter Chip Laugharn said Helming was trained in air attack and was helping with retardant drops before making the trip back home on Highway 41.

California Highway Patrol says Helming was hit head-on Thursday morning by another car that blew a tire near Highway 33. Helming died at the scene. Hours later, a procession traveled Highway 46 and Highway 101 to bring Helming home.

"We are a small county, a small fire service in our county. We are very tight and bonded together. It's difficult. It'll be a very difficult time for everyone," Deputy Chief Aggson said.

Helming began his career with the U.S Forest Service 22 years ago. He is survived by a wife, 6-year-old son and twin infants.

"What his family is going through right now, it's really devastating," Aggson said.

Helming was recently named the Santa Maria Elks Lodge Firefighter of the Year.

The driver of the car that crashed into Helming, 25-year-old Antonio Avalos of Santa Maria, was flown to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno with major injuries.

Related content:
Firefighter killed in crash while returning home from Sierra fire

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