A crowd of community members, firefighters, city and county leaders and others gathered last week at Victory Park in Stockton for the unveiling of the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
The memorial, a tribute to firefighters in the city who made the “ultimate sacrifice” while on the job, was originally located in downtown Stockton near the waterfront in 1998, according to city officials.
The monument is of two firefighters holding a hose and nozzle while a third firefighter cares for an injured infant.
“For almost 20 years, it graced the previous location at McLeod Park on the waterfront,” said Stockton Fire Capt. Kevin Taylor. “It was enjoyed by the community for its beauty and revered by our membership as hallowed ground.”
However, repeated vandalism and graffiti resulted in the removal of the statues and plaques and the storage of the monument in a warehouse.
Now, five and a half years later, the memorial has a new home located outside of Fire Station 6 on Picardy Drive at the park with a wall dedicated to 14 fallen firefighters who died in the line of duty.
The original monument, designed and sculpted by Betty Saletta, had 13 names and came about after Stockton firefighters Brett Laws and Bryan Golden died on Feb. 6, 1997 while responding to reports of a structure fire on Mendocino Avenue with a woman trapped inside.
Both men were advancing a hose line when the burning structure collapsed onto them, killing them.
Laws was a seven-year veteran with the department who worked at the station where the monument is now located and Golden was freshly out of the recruit academy.
The 14th name added to the wall was of Capt. Vidal “Max” Fortuna, who died on Jan. 31, 2022, after being shot while responding to a fire.
Fortuna’s family wiped tears from their eyes while Taylor shared a memory of how Fortuna was involved in the process of the monument before his death.
He said one day an impromptu meeting was called where he’d have to share his ideas on how the future site of the monument would look like.
While many other firefighters were busy trying to enjoy their lunch break and simply answered “Yeah Kevin, that’s great, whatever you think,” about his designs, only one person took interest and gave input.
The person was Fortuna.
“And this whole time pouring my heart into this project since he died, all I could think about was how he cared about how it looked — never knowing that it would be his name on the wall.”