Santana High School Alumni

Santee, California (CA)

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Steven Mark Arrollado

Steven Mark Arrollado

Class of 1973

Three decades after young firefighter's death, a memorial will honor him
By Anne Krueger
August 20, 2004

NANCEE E. LEWIS / Union-Tribune
Three of Steve Arrollado's sisters (from left), Val Woods of Washington state, Chris Marshall of South Carolina and Dana Abruzzo of Ramona, worked at Abruzzo's home compiling photographs for a tribute to their brother, who died in August 1973 of burns suffered in a fire near Potrero.

A long-overdue tribute will be paid tomorrow to a young firefighter whose death 31 years ago brought about changes that made battling wildfires safer.

At the Rancho San Diego headquarters of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a memorial with a bronze plaque will be unveiled in honor of Steve Arrollado.

The seasonal firefighter and Santana High School graduate died Aug. 28, 1973, from burns he suffered 17 days earlier while fighting a fire near Potrero in East County.

The memorial is the result of months of effort by John Harms, who was Arrollado's captain at the CDF Warner Springs station, and by many other firefighters around the county.

"It could have been sooner, but it's never too late," Harms said.

The memorial, crafted of stone from the area where Arrollado fell, will be dedicated at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at CDF headquarters at 2249 Jamacha Road. The ceremony will be open to the public.

The 18-year-old Arrollado had recently graduated from Santana High in Santee and had worked as a seasonal firefighter for just three weeks when he was critically injured.

As a result of his death, CDF firefighters began wearing cotton and fire-retardant clothing instead of polyester shirts and pants that can burn into the skin. The incident that led to Arrollado's death is still used as part of the training classes at the CDF academy for firefighters.

Steve Arrollado was 18 when he died of injuries suffered while fighting a fire.

"Just about any wild-land firefighter you speak with today will say, 'Oh yeah, I remember that class,' " Harms said. "It has benefited thousands of firefighters."

CDF Capt. Bob Alvarez attended school with Arrollado and is still friends with his younger brother, Jim. He said the death of Novato firefighter Steven Rucker in the October wildfires was the impetus that renewed interest in creating a memorial to Arrollado.

Alvarez said Rucker was the first firefighter since Arrollado to die or suffer major burn injuries while battling a wildfire in San Diego County.

"To lose only one says a lot for the training that we've gone through and how we've used Steve's accident as something to learn from," Alvarez said.

Arrollado and another firefighter were trying to contain a 350-acre fire about one-fourth of a mile south of state Route 94 when the blaze rapidly got bigger than they expected. Arrollado, who was fighting his first major brush fire, was overcome by smoke and flames. His clothing caught fire, and he was badly burned.

He was taken to Route 94, where a television news crew covering the fire taped his rescue. A U.S. Forest Service helicopter landed on the freeway, Arrollado was taken aboard, and the helicopter then took off into the smoke-filled sky.

Initially, Arrollado's friends and family thought he might survive his burns, but he died of respiratory arrest at University Hospital's burn center, now known as UCSD Medical Center.

Members of Arrollado's family are coming from around the country to attend the unveiling of his memorial. Jim Arrollado, a Rancho San Diego resident, fondly recalled his rivalry with his brother over sports. Both played football and basketball, sometimes on the same team.

"We were very close," Arrollado said. "We had a lot of love for each other."

Arrollado's sister, Dana Abruzzo of Ramona, remembered her brother as a quiet person with a gentle spirit. She said she was moved by the effort to create a tribute to him.

"I just find it amazing that this has been in someone's heart this long," she said. "It's a testament to the type of person Steve was. He touched a lot of hearts."

Harms said he never forgot Arrollado, even after he quit as a CDF firefighter in the late 1970s and went into a private manufacturing business. He said every firefighter he contacted wanted to help with the memorial.

"As a firefighter, there's just a connection that doesn't go away," Harms said. "We should have done this a long time ago."

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