This morning at St. Mary's Cathedral, thousands of people gathered for the funeral of San Francisco firefighters Vincent Perez and Anthony Valerio -- marking the fourth time in the past 20 years that the life of a San Francisco firefighter was honored at that location.
Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Governor Jerry Brown, Mayor Ed Lee, and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom comprised just a fraction of the city officials who filled the pews to pay their respects to the two men from Station 26 who died fighting a fire turned flash fire in Diamond Heights on June 2.
Outside the cathedral, firefighters from Alaska, Canada, and Mexico mingled with other officers. There was barely any wiggle room to be found among the sea of blue and white caps.
Steve Major, an engineer for the fire department in Tracy, said his fellow firemen departed at about 6 a.m. in order to attend the service.
"It's a small community," he told SF Weekly. "You know someone who knows these people, and you're affected by their loss."
He said he was grateful for the unusually warm weather, but noted that it was "hot in blue wool."
Rick Gomez flew in yesterday with two colleagues from Houston, and explained that it wasn't unusual for people to come in from all around the country.
"It's a brotherhood and sisterhood. Anywhere in the world, it's like family. When you go into a burning building, you have to have each other's backs," he told SF Weekly.
With nearly all the San Francisco firefighters leaving their posts to show their support, approximately 150 firefighters from Alameda, Contra Costa, and Napa counties swooped in to staff the stations.
Certainly, brotherhood and togetherness were the words of the day. But when it was time for four officers to remove the star-spangled caskets from their resting spots atop a red and white fire engine, the handshaking and back-slapping came to a standstill, and nothing could be heard but the whirring of a helicopter circling the ceremony.
Inside, the cathedral quickly filled to capacity. More officers piled into a separate viewing room to watch the half-English, half-Spanish ceremony from a screen.
Mayor Lee, who was said to have spent five hours in the emergency room on the day of the fire and then more time during the days that followed, was the first speaker in the remembrance component of the service.
"These have been dark days for the city, and we have experienced a great loss," he said, encouraging everyone to follow Valerio and Perez's example by becoming public servants.
The other speakers -- family and fellow firefighters -- painted paramedic-firefighter "Tony" as outgoing and passionate, and Lieutenant "Vinny" as strong and silent.
Tom O'Connor, president of the San Francisco firefighters' union, remembered Valerio as a talker.
"Tony had quite a gift for gab. Tony could talk, and then he could talk, and then when he was done, he could talk some more."
Valerio, a former paramedic for the Department of Public Health, was "like Mother Teresa with a siren," O'Connor said.
Perez, on the other hand, was a former Marine and was known for his trademark "uh-huh" and "mhm," showcasing his tendency "not to listen to stories."
"He was a fireman's fireman," O'Connor said of Perez. "If there was a fire, Vince was going to be the one putting out the fire."
"They were two men who had every gift except length of years," he said.
Representing the families, brother Mark Valerio and siblings Maryleen and Alex Perez spoke affectionately of the two men.
Maryleen Perez said other firefighters often wondered if her quiet brother adored them the way they adored him.
"I'm here to tell you, yes, he did," she said.