Firefighters delivered emotional tributes Friday to a 29-year-old colleague who displayed strength and compassion while doing a job he dreamed about as a child.
Relatives, colleagues and friends joined members of the LAFD and other firefighting agencies for a funeral to honor the life of Kelly Wong, who died after a fall during a training exercise in downtown Los Angeles earlier this month. Firefighters walked in a somber processional behind a fire truck carrying Wong's flag-draped casket to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
"He was a big guy with a big heart," LAFD Capt. Erik Scott said.
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Wong, a two-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department, fell about six stories from an aerial ladder Saturday, June 3. He died in the hospital two days later.
The procession began at Main and First streets, led by an LAFD fire truck bearing the casket, followed by an honor guard and mourners who walked to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the 9 a.m. service.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were among the mourners. More than 1,000 uniformed personnel from law enforcement and firefighting organizations from numerous jurisdictions were on hand for the memorial.
"We are here today in this city of angels to celebrate the life of an angel," Garcetti told the mourners. "Celebrating -- each one of us -- the courage and the hopes that we have, and to feel for a moment this love that surrounds us.
"To Kelly's family, I know you feel only sad and dull right now. I think all of us feel a piece of that, but you more deeply than anybody. But I hope you, too, also feel what love this has unleashed, an uncontrollable love, a love that has no limit; a love that encompasses the reflection of four million grateful people and beyond; the brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighters everywhere; the first responders; and of this city which depends on the courage and -- depended on the courage of Kelly for us to lives the lives that we do."
Colleagues and loved ones remembered Wong as a "man of limitless passion" at a solemn vigil Monday at Fire Station 92 in Century City, where he was last stationed. He was described as an angel in the City of Angels, someone who displayed strength and compassion as he watched over the community.
"Kelly put his life day in, day out, to serve his community," said Steve Stern of the LAFD. "In your time of need, he was the hero you wanted to show up on your doorstep."
Wong was an "accomplished individual" who had just started a promising career with the department, the LAFD chief said.
"I am extremely appreciative for the outpouring of love and support for Firefighter Wong, his family, and this Department the aftermath of his sudden passing," said Terrazas. "Any time the LAFD loses a member it is a tragedy, but to lose a firefighter at the beginning of his career is an even greater tragedy."
Wong is survived by his wife Danielle; his infant son Colton; his mother Ann; his mother-in-law and father-in-law Barbara and Michael Quinlan; and his sisters-in-law Nicole and Stephanie.
"Six-foot-three, 250 pounds, muscle cut lean, but he was so sweet, so humble, a beautiful person," LAFD Capt. Dave Gastelum recalled. "Never cocky. Never arrogant."
He seemed destined to become a firefighter. Wong liked to play with toy fire trucks when he was a child and imagine what it would be like to become a firefighter one day, Terrazas said.
Wong was born in Hong Kong in January 1988 and came to the United States with his mother at age 8. He graduated from Upland High School, where he competed in track and field and cross country. The fifth-grade spelling bee winner took honors and advanced placement classes in high school.
Wong earned an Associate's Degree with honors in Fire Technology from Mt. San Antonio College and a Bachelor's of Science Degree from Columbia Southern University in Fire Science. He was 18 when he enrolled in a CAL FIRE Wildland Firefighter Academy and earned his Emergency Medical Technician license.
He worked for U.S. Forest Service and joined a team of Hotshot and Helitack firefighters, and also worked for CAL FIRE Station 1 in Rvierside.
He was the top academic graduate from LAFD Recruit Academy 40 in 2015 on Terminal Island. Wong was set for transfer to Station 9 in downtown Los Angeles this month.
Terrazas said the type of training in which Wong was killed will continue.
"When Kelly was injured, the crew at Fire Station 9 was training, and I always tell our people that the first thing, the most important thing that we do is respond to emergencies," he said. "The second most important thing we do is train to respond to emergencies. We will continue to train whether it be for a high-rise fire, a brush fire, a medical event, whatever incident type it is, we will continue to train to be ready so we can protect the people of this great city."
The LAFD, in conjunction with state safety agencies, is conducting an investigation into the circumstances of Wong's death.