Posted 8/28/15 – The flag at the Sierra Madre Fire Station was at half mast Saturday as hundreds of Sierra Madreans, turned out to Memorial Park to join the Sierra Madre Fire Department in celebrating the life of retired SMFD Captain Chris Morrison, a volunteer firefighter for more than 20 years. Chris passed away Aug. 9th following an extended battle with cancer. His love of his home state of Ohio, where he lived from age 8 through 13, was reflected in the crowd, many of whom wore Cleveland Browns or Indians jerseys and colors in his honor.
The evening began when Chris’s friend Ken Higdon stepped up to the microphone to thank everyone for coming. He gave special thanks to the SMFD for putting on the event, and to the San Gabriel Fire Dept. for covering the City of Sierra Madre during the event so that the entire Sierra Madre Fire Dept. was able to attend the ceremony. He also thanked the Arcadia Fire Dept. for their participation. Hen then introduced Father Michael Bamberger of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, who served for many years as a volunteer on the Fire Dept.
Father Bamberger noted that Chris was spiritual but not religious, noting that “his spirituality was such that he couldn’t sit by when people needed help, he couldn’t sit by when people were in trouble, and he served his community much better than many of the religious people that I know.” He related a humorous story about a time when he and Chris were on a strike team in Malibu, and due to a shortage of helmets, he shared his helmet, with the designation “Padre” on it, with Chris. When a firefighter on the scene asked if he were a priest, Chris responded with “Do you need to make your confession?”, which Father Bamberger felt was a “choice moment”. He then read a reading from the Prophet Isaiah, because he felt it is helpful to be putting ourselves in mind “what God really wants for all of us.” Isaiah 25:6-9
Next to speak was Chris’s father, Bill Morrison, who began by thanking all those in attendance, with special thanks for Kris Lowe, who he described as a “fixer”, somebody that got things done. He thanked her for finding them housing when they knew they were going to be out here for a while “while Chris did his journey”. He thanked her for arranging an extended stay at “The Kensington”, and noted that he owed a debt of gratitude also to The Kensington, it’s staff, and “those dear residents over there”. He thanked them for providing he and his wife “a sanctuary that we could come to when we were sad, we could pull the shades, we could turn the air conditioning up, we could lay on the bed, we could scratch, we could pray, we could cry, and we were alone by ourselves and it was peaceful, and that was important to us, it helped us tremendously to go through this trip with Chris.”
He then turned his thoughts to Chris, noting that volunteerism was at his core, that it showed his character, and showed who he is, adding that he was using the present tense rather than the past tense because even if Chris is not with us in the physical world, “he’s with us in the spiritual world, and he’s with me forever”. He noted that in his 20 years in the department, he must have touched thousands of lives. He added that the contributions made by the community in the last few weeks have been fantastic, but he asked the audience to “do one more small thing. Open up a spot in your heart for him, let him in, let him be with you, and you won’t regret it.”
He discussed the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, where the town in which he now lives lost 19 firefighters from the Prescott Department’s “Granite Mountain Hotshots”, and how the community had stood vigil at the department while tributes and gifts poured in. Prescott city fathers had called for volunteers to catalog the gifts so that they could recreate the fence when they built a memorial to the Hotshots. He described picking through the items as he was cataloging them, and coming across a child’s fire truck that had been left, with a note inside from a little boy to the firefighters. He said that while it was obvious the parents had helped with the writing of the note, when he got to the end of the note, “the last sentence, the last six words just blew me away, because they came from the heart of that child. They were little boys words, with little boys feelings…it said “you guys have fun in heaven”… You know, rest in peace, and thanks for your sacrifice, they’re all very meaningful, but that’s the first time I ever ready something that came from a kid. It was beautiful. So you know, Chris. I want you to know that we love you very, very much, and we’re going to miss you terribly, but you can rest assured that we’re gonna take care of things down here and you don’t have to worry, we’re gonna make sure that everything is gonna be all right and all you have to do is relax, and have fun in heaven…”
Next to speak was Chris’s sister, Lisa Walters. She recalled growing up with Chris as a big brother, that he had been her hero for forty-seven years. She recalled that Chris shuttled her around on dates, to appointments, and more. She noted that through his connections, she had been able to attend many great concerts. She discussed his patience as he taught her to drive. She recalled how the two of them would sing “loud and proud”. She continued that “My brother was reasonable, he was loyal, he was level headed and responsible, and I think because of that he was so well respected…he just made a career out of helping people.” She described how he had continued to participate in family and community activities even as he fought the illness, “Even as Chris was fighting his illness in the last year, he participated in so many of these events, and he did it with dignity and strength, and always with a smile on his face…he will be a fixture for me, forever…I think my brother left us too soon, but I don’t think it would be any easier thirty years from now. There would just be twice as many of us because he would have met so many people in that time that would have touched his life.”
Kris Lowe, who served alongside Kris on the department was next to speak, and she began by reading an excerpt from a note about Chris that the wife of a fellow firefighter had written. “The measure of a man’s character lies in how he treats other living beings, giving of himself when no other reward is expected, other than to simply be kind for kind’s sake. Chris Morrison, through a life well lived, continually exemplifies the conscientious actions of a man of true character.” You can read the complete note here.
She continued: “He always made you feel included and welcome and he had this unique ability to make you feel comfortable, no matter who was around, no matter what the situation, you felt comfortable. As a firefighter and a captain, he instilled confidence. We all knew, no matter young or old…that we could all follow him into a burning building. Any one of us felt safe and secure…Chris is the kind of guy that brought happiness to everyone. He always had your back.”
Then Ken came back up to speak on behalf of Chris’s wife Lori. It began with a report that Sophia Cimino had done for school about Chris when she was 7 years old, reprinted in its entirety here:
My story is about a firefighter. His name is Chris Morrison.
Chris is a captain with the Sierra Madre Fire Department.
I think he is courageous because he risks his life every time there is a call for help.
Chris goes into burning buildings and fights brush fires.
He wears an air tank and fire suit to keep him safe.
Chris is brave and calm in an emergency.
Chris has done lots of training,
He has fought single home fires and fires in mini-malls.
Most of his calls are medical calls.
Chris has helped people with broken bones, people who are not breathing and people having heart attacks.
He has saved many lives.
Chris’s favorite call was the time he helped a woman deliver her baby.
It was a beautiful healthy boy.
Chris says “it makes me feel good to help people.”
He then read a note from Lori, excerpted here. “There are no words. This man. This town. These friends. The love. Chris was unique and this town is unique. Today is very special. Thank you for coming out to honor my husband. We are in a state of disbelief over the generosity and support that Chris and our family have received from this wonderful town during this tragedy. Perhaps the most special aspect of this entire experience is that Chris himself was able to witness these amazing tributes.” She then thanked various members of the department and the family for their contributions, creating a GoFundMe page, organizing a Fill the Boat fundraiser, producing a Caring Bridge page to chronicle Chris’s illness, a Facebook page filled with tributes and memories that Chris was able to enjoy in his last days and more. She thanked local businesses for participating in the Fill the Boot fundraiser, with special mention to Geri Fraser of The Buccaneer for matching the contributions of her patrons. She also gave special thanks to Kris Lowe and Ken Higdon for being there for her and Chris and helping them through his fight. He then read a poem Lori had picked out by W.H. Auden, called Funeral Blues, which you can read here.
SMFD Chief Steve Heydorff was then joined on stage by all of the SierraMadre Fire Dept. Heydorff gave a brief account of Chris’s service on the department, noting that he joined the department in 1992. He was voted unanimously onto the department by the members following a probationary term, and graduated from the academy in 1993. He also became an EMT in 1993. The highlight of his medical career was delivering a healthy baby boy. He became an engineer in 1998 and a Captain in 2002. He retired in 2012. His knowledge of construction from his “real world” job was invaluable in training fire fighters. He had more than 2600 hours of training, and served on more than 4000 service calls. He then read a very funny request for Leave of Absence letter from 1996 that he found in Chris’s personnel file. The members of the Dept. then took part in the traditional firefighter’s “Ringing of the Bell” ritual, and the last call from the Verdugo Station.
LAST CALL FOR SIERRA MADRE FIRE CAPTAIN CHRIS MORRISON
Activate station 41 tones
“Captain Chris Morison – Verdugo”
Activate station 41 tones (2nd time)
“Captain Chris Morison – Verdugo”
Activate all Verdugo stations and BC tones
“Attention all Verdugo stations
It is with deep regret that we announce the last call for Retired Fire Captain Chris Morison of the Sierra Madre Fire Department.
Chris served with the Sierra Madre Fire Department for 20 years. Today we honor a legacy of volunteerism, friendship, community, and a zest for life. His presence in quarters will forever be remembered.
The bell has been struck for his last alarm.
Captain Morrison’s tasks are done,
His tour of duty is complete,
He is going home.
This was followed by the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes by Martha Hall. Ken then returned to again thank everyone for coming, and invite them to come up on stage to view the hundreds of pictures of Chris and his family, and enjoy a musical playlist of some of Chris’s favorite music put together by his brother Tony and friend Denny Barry.
To a life well lived. Rest easy, Captain Morrison.
(Editor’s Note: Correction – In the original post of this article, I got the date of death wrong, posting it as August 15th. That has now been corrected to the correct date, August 9th. My sincere apologies to the family for this error.)
Below the video, you’ll find a photo gallery from Saturday night.
Photo Gallery, click to enlarge