Funerals held for fallen firefighters

July 30, 2010 3:16:17 PM PDT
In a procession of dark uniforms and white gloves, shiny buttons and bell caps, there was one little pink dress.

"I'm sure her heart is broken into a million pieces. It breaks my heart to see that. She's probably wondering, where's daddy?" Bridgeport Battalion Chief Manuel Firpi said.

Her daddy, LT Steven Velasquez, died last Saturday night in the line of duty.

Thousands of firefighters from as far away as Seattle and Canada attended his Friday morning funeral at St. Augustine's Cathedral, a glorious display of solidarity and brotherhood.

"It makes you feel more proud because you see all of the camaraderie; you see how everyone is pitching in their time to come be with you during this hard time," Firpi said.

Bridgeport held two funerals for firefighters on Friday.

"What came across in that celebration was a great human being with a great heart," Attorney General Dick Blumenthal said.

"Part of the tributes by these fellow firefighters of Lieutenant Velasquez this morning, just of respect and admiration of a guy who put his life on the line over and over and over again," Senator Christopher Dodd said.

Velasquez and Michael Baik were trying to put out a fire on the third floor of a home on Elmwood Avenue last Saturday. They were both found unconscious last Saturday.

The medical examiner says Baik died of smoke inhalation.

"It's hard. I got a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old, and just to know those families aren't going to have their dad or their husband again, it's a pretty bad thing," Joel Abrew, of the fire department in Lynn, Massachusetts, said.

The heavy hearts moved on to Baik's funeral hours later at St. Nicolas Antiochian Orthodox church. Tough too see his wife, daughter and teenage soon say goodbye to their hero too.

"In the back of our minds, this will last for months, if not years. We lost two great people today. And we just want everybody to stay safe so we don't lose anybody else," Firpi said.

Velasquez and Baik were searching for people in need of rescue and ventilating the house when they sent out mayday calls, officials said. They were found unconscious.

The fire department has not had problems with its breathing equipment, which is checked daily when firefighters come on duty, Capt. Edward McCann said.

The air tanks give a warning of about five minutes when they are getting low, he said, but firefighters can become disoriented or have their exit blocked by fire, smoke or falling debris.