USA — The sorrowful sound of bagpipes preceded a funeral procession of mourners for Fiddletown resident and Sacramento Metropolitan firefighter Jim Saunders, who died Oct. 7 from injuries sustained in the line of duty. He was 52 years old.
Saunders suffered a heart attack while working at a grass fire near Haggin Oaks Golf Course Oct. 3.
Saunders was remembered during a massive memorial Tuesday at Hornet Stadium at California State University, Sacramento. It was attended by 300 to 400 family members, friends and firefighters from stations around the Western United States. A U.S. flag that flew over Ground Zero in New York City was sent to the memorial service to honor Saunders for his ultimate sacrifice.
A 22-year veteran of the fire department, Saunders had been assigned to Sacramento Metropolitan Engine Co. 101 in the Arcade area, and also served as a volunteer fireman for the city of Jackson for the past 20 years.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement regarding Saunders’ passing.
“Firefighter Jim Saunders was one of the toughest, most selfless and best trained firefighters in the world,” he said. “When it was needed the most, he jumped into action with complete commitment and great passion for protecting his fellow citizens. On behalf of all Californians, Maria and I extend our sincere gratitude for his service and sacrifice. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, loved ones and fellow firefighters as they mourn this loss.”
In honor of Saunders, Schwarz-enegger ordered Capitol flags to be flown at half-staff.
A statement released by Sac Metro said Saunders’ “last selfless act was to make an organ donation. Jim was able to donate his liver, both kidneys and other tissue. Jim’s donation of life will benefit three people. Jim’s family and his Metro Fire family are very proud of him.”
Saunders was the first firefighter lost in the performance of his duty since Sac Metro’s formation in 2000.
Rich Martin, of Plymouth, described Saunders as a “great friend,” and said they frequently ran into each other while getting coffee.
“I met Jim back when I joined the fire service,” Martin said. He was a good friend and mentor. He was a kind, caring person, had a great sense of humor.”
Martin said Saunders had planned on operating a Christmas tree farm.
“The last time I spoke with him, he was looking forward to getting his tree farm up and running,” Martin said. “He said he had roughly 4,000 Christmas trees.”
Ledger Dispatch Advertising Director Beth Barnard said she worked with Saunders and shared the same emergency medical class with him, in the 1980s. “We were up at Defender, in Pioneer,” she said. “We all had nicknames. Everybody had to have their nickname on their helmet.” Barnard said Saunders came up with his own: Prawn.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m Prawn,’ and we all went, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, because I’m a little bigger than a shrimp.’ So that was Jim, he always had a sense of humor. He was always upbeat. He was always positive. He was always there for his friends. He never hesitated to jump into anything.”
According to a United States Fire Administration website, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the leading cause of death for firefighters nationwide is from heart attack.