Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Visalia fire captain dies from stroke on vacation memorial held

 Bidding a fond farewell to Visalia fire captain who died at age 57

Scott Smith was on vacation in the Central Coast on Nov. 19, just days after finishing his shift with the Visalia Fire Department.

A stroke prevented him from ever returning to his job.

Visalia Fire Capt. Scott Smith, second from left, talks in July 2008 to witnesses about a kitchen fire in the 800 block of North West Street. GERALD CARROLL
Fire Capt. Smith, 57, died Dec. 10 of complications from the stroke.

"It's been tough. He was a great guy in perfect health with no bad habits," Visalia Fire Department Battalion Chief Charlie Norman said. "A family man, great husband and father. Just a great guy."

Smith, who worked at Fire Station 52 and was set to retire at the end of 2012, was hired by the Visalia department on Jan. 20, 1992, the same day Norman and four others were hired as lateral firefighters.

Norman said more than half of his time working for Visalia was spent at the same station or company as Smith.

Of the five men hired with Smith in 1992, one is retired, one is an engineer, two are captains and one is a battalion chief in Visalia.

Smith was born in Fresno and had previously worked at the North Central Fire District as a firefighter.

Norman spoke to Smith a day before his stroke. He said that everything was fine and that there were no signs of any problem.

"He was in better health now than I was in my 20s," Norman said. "He worked out religiously. He played golf, skied, rode bicycles and dirt bikes."

A visitation was held Sunday and funeral services were held Monday, attended by more than 800.

CAL FIRE, the Tulare Fire Department, the Tulare County Fire Department and the Kings County Fire Department covered the city of Visalia during the funeral services so all employees of the Visalia department could attend.

Representatives from the Kern Fire Department, Fresno Fire Department and fire departments from as far as the Bay Area attended.

More than 110 firefighters were at the services.

"The funeral was somber and sad. But as you heard testimonials from friends and family, you realized he lived every day to the fullest," Norman said. "How he did things with kids and firefighters on- and off-duty showed he lived to the fullest. He was well-liked, popular, knowledgeable and a natural leader. People just flocked to him."

Visalia Fire Chief Mark Nelson, Engineer Allen Wilkinson and Norman spoke at the memorial service.

"He was a long-term veteran of nearly 20 years, a very positive person, good leader and very respected by the department," Nelson said. "He was a real asset to the department; it's a tragic loss."

Smith's casket was taken by a reserve engine driven by Adam Arakelian to the cemetery after the memorial service. The casket was watched by two members of the color guard.

Arakelian was hired with Smith in 1992.

Norman said the department has mentioned setting up a memorial tournament and being there for the family whenever needed.

He said the family now has 70 Johnny's on the spot to take care of them.

Funeral services concluded with the ringing of the bell. The three rings, three times, signify the end of the emergency and the return to quarters.

"It's taught us to live each day as if it's the last. Make a selfless contribution each day and spend time with your family," Norman said. "Like I said at the services, to leave a legacy, you have to live a legacy and Scott lived a legacy."

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