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County honors fallen law enforcement, firefighters
As long as police and firefighters keep dying, Glenn County will keep remembering them.
Officers from the Willows and Orland police and fire departments, the Glenn County Sheriff’s Department, the Willows area California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service gathered Wednesday to remember the state’s four firefighters, seven police officers and one California Highway Patrol officer killed in 2011.
The fifth annual Glenn County Peace Officer and Firefighter Memorial, which also honored Glenn County public safety personnel killed in the line of duty, was held in connection to National Peace Officer Memorial Week and California Peace Officer Memorial Day.
It was held at the Baptist church in Willows.
In-the-line-of-duty deaths of law enforcement officers jumped 14 percent last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
More than 170 federal, state and local peace officers were killed in the United States, with gunfire accounting for the largest number of deaths.
“The first thing we do when we come into work in the morning is put on a bullet-proof vest,” said Lt. Shon Harris, Willows California Highway Patrol commander, who spoke at the ceremony. “We know going in that we can loose everything we have and everything we are ever going to have.”
More than 70 firefighters died in the U.S. in 2011, with heart attack during or immediately after a fire incident being the leading cause of death.
The causes of in-line-of-duty deaths mirror those in Glenn County.
Assistant Willows Fire Chief Witmer Brenneman collapsed and died of a heart attack on Sept., 8, 1973, at the Willows station, after several hours of battling a vegetation fire than spread to the old Knight home west of Willows.
Willows Police Chief David A. Markham was killed Feb. 19, 1940 in a shoot-out with August Carroll, near the intersection of what is now Walnut and Butte streets.
“It was a bad time for all of us,” said Markham’s granddaughter, Emmy Markham Long, of Sacramento, immediately after the ceremony.
Long, who was only 5 at the time, attended Wednesday’s memorial with her brother Ed Markham, who was not quite 7 when their grandfather was shot and killed in the street.
Long recalled that her grandmother, Alice Markham, never recovered from her husband’s death, and came to live with their family shortly after his burial.
When his grandfather was alive, Ed Markham remembered sitting on his lap and feeling his police revolver beneath his coat, as it lay holstered near his chest.
It was the same gun Markham used to injure his assailant before he died of his own gunshot wounds.
“I remember playing with the gun when I was a kid,” Ed Markham said. “When I found it in a drawer after my father died, I took the chamber out and put it in my safe-deposit-box, because I had three boys of my own.”
Ed Markham later donated the gun to the Willows Police Department, and he and his sister were honored the encased revolver was prominently displayed Wednesday at the memorial service.
Both recalled their grandfather’s love of fire trucks, and smiled at the thought that the former police chief may have had a another calling.
Wednesday’s ceremony was solemn, as candles were lit for all Glenn County’s fallen heroes, including CHP Officer Charles T. Smith, who was killed in a gun battle Sept. 9, 1956, with two Bay Area men who were AWOL from the U. S. Army, and Glenn County Sheriff Hal Singleton, who was killed Dec. 26, 1951, in a head-on traffic collision near Maxwell.
Singleton is the first Glenn County peace officer to have his name etched in stone on the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial in Washington D.C.
Singleton’s son David Singleton and grandson, US Naval Cmdr. Jonathan Singleton attended the solemn ceremony last year.
“It was very inspirational,” said David Singleton, following Wednesday’s ceremony. “Law enforcement is the foundation of a free society, and public safety is the foundation for how we live our lives. It is important that we honor all who serve, and all who lost their lives serving the public.”
Also remembered at the ceremony were the 14 fallen volunteer firefighters from the New Tribe Mission at Fouts Springs.
The firefighters died July 19, 1953, alongside US Forest Service Officer Robert F. Powers, after getting trapped on Rattlesnake Ridge in Grindstone Canyon, after an arsonist lit two fires.
The tragedy resulted in major changes to wildland fire training, firefighting safety standards and overall awareness of how weather and environmental conditions affect fire behavior.
Willows Fire Capt. Skip Sykes said true heroes are remembered for their courage and sense of duty, even as peace officers and firefighters continue to lay down their lives for others.
“They fight the good fight on a daily basis,” he said.