He was so honest he admitted to feeding the dog too many treats. He had the sort of sense of humor that when he had to respond to a fire at the zoo, he asked his superior with a straight face, “Would you like me to bring the bolt cutters and let all the animals out?” Additionally, he had such a remarkable intelligence that Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy said, “He was the future of the fire department. He was a star.”
These were just a few of the stories told about Dan Corrigan, the 35-year-old firefighter found dead in his car on March 4 at the Santa Barbara Airport’s fire station, at his public memorial on Friday afternoon. About 300 people, including all 100 uniformed firefighters from the SBCFD, gathered in the rotunda at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort to talk about Corrigan, because “telling Dan stories” was what his colleagues started doing when they learned he had passed, and it was the only way they knew how to cope with the astonishing pain of his unexpected loss.
All the speakers at the memorial emphasized — through halting speech and tears behind sunglasses in the blistering afternoon sun — the impact that Corrigan’s love, humor, intelligence, and dedication had on those he cared about. His former Fresno colleague Karey Wedemeyer told of how her first instinct was to hug him, how she often had to remind him to go home instead of mopping the floors and cleaning the engines, and that he was “the kind of man every firefighter would want on their rig.” His childhood best friend, Jerry Hulse, said Corrigan was a “super-dad” and that “we will continue to be best friends for life.”
An especially moving speech from Hulse’s nephew, Anthony Lopez, illustrated how deeply Corrigan touched his friends and family. “I stared into the mirror that day when I heard he passed and said, ‘You’re my hero,’ and saluted and swore I would do anything to become a firefighter just like you,” said Lopez. “I love you, Thunder Dan. Always will.” Tall and strong, Corrigan’s lifelong nickname was “Thunder Dan” because “thunder comes before lightning,” said Lopez, a joke that he said he finally understands.
Corrigan graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a mechanical engineering degree and worked for Union Pacific Railroad and Honeywell before he decided to become a firefighter like his father. He worked for six years at the Fresno Fire Department before transferring with two of his close friends to the Santa Barbara City Fire Department in 2013. Corrigan is survived by his pregnant fiancée, Sarah, and their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Jack.
The memorial included a procession of Corrigan’s casket between a line of more than 100 saluting firefighters, the presentation of his uniform to his parents, a bagpipe serenade, and a helicopter flyover. The event was funded entirely by the Santa Barbara Firefighters Association, and backup services were provided by the Montecito Fire Department and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department so that all of Corrigan’s colleagues could attend the funeral.
The results of Corrigan’s autopsy have not been released, though no foul play is suspected. Officials said he was stricken by an unknown medical emergency.