Fire Department Mourns One of Its Own

Laura Arnold/Staff

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Members of the Berkeley Fire Department carried the coffin of Berkeley firefighter Jay Walter into St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church last Saturday morning.

Streets in West Berkeley were closed and people gathered on corners to witness the solemn procession of fire engines, ambulances, firefighters and a horse-drawn carriage from Fire Station 5 on Shattuck Avenue to the church on Addison Street.

Walter, 54, died of pancreatic cancer on April 6. Because firefighters often encounter hazardous chemicals while on the job, Walter is considered to have died in the line of duty, said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong Jr.

Walter joined the Berkeley Fire Department in 1993 and had 10 previous years of experience as a medic, firefighter and engineer, said Berkeley Fire Chief Debra Pryor.

"He was a passionate, dedicated person who went out of his way to give exceptional, patient care to each individual he encountered," she told mourners on Saturday.

Walter's coffin was draped in an American flag because he had served two tours in Vietnam, where he was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

At least 150 friends, family and fellow firefighters attended the service, where many recounted the joys of knowing Walter, or "Bear," as friends called him.

Department chaplain Rev. Jayson Landeza described Walter's unique sense of humor.

"Because of his intelligence and background knowledge, Jay could carry almost anything on," he told the group. "He also brought out the best in me."

Walter's daughter Roslyn Weatherall said he inspired her to become a firefighter.

"He taught me to step away from the wall and participate in life," she said. "He helped me find my voice, appreciate humor and believe that I can do anything I can choose to do."

-Kelly Fitzpatrick


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