The right words to describe and honor a fallen firefighter still didn’t seem to come to Sean Misner’s family and friends, who on Monday night somberly celebrated a young life lost weeks earlier.
Unable to sum up so much in what should have been many more years of life, speakers at the memorial service for the 26-year-old Santa Ynez Valley native — one of 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona — coped with their overwhelming grief in different ways.
Misner’s mother, Tammy, wrote him a letter to read aloud. His best friend, Jason Lambert, talked about meeting Misner while in Little League baseball and how “Seany” had a spirit that wasn’t afraid of anything.
He was called a hero, a gentleman, a sportsman, a devout Christian and gushing father-to-be.
A crowd of hundreds befittingly gathered Monday to honor Misner, who they knew as a caring, confident and enthusiastic young man, at the football stadium of Santa Ynez High School, where Misner spent much of his youth playing the sport he loved and diving after the seemingly uncatchable.
The tight-knit valley community came to say goodbye — many dressed in Pirates school athletic attire — along with a sea of dark-blue-and-black law enforcement and fire uniforms proudly worn by more than 300 first-responders from across California and beyond.
Among them were other hotshot fire crew members, who honored Misner as a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting team employed at the Prescott Fire Department. He and 18 fellow firefighters with the 20-member unit perished June 30 when they were overtaken by the deadly and unpredictable wildfire in the mountains about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Misner’s wife, Amanda, who is seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child, wore a Dallas Cowboys jersey — her husband’s favorite team — and walked arm-in-arm with her brother, who called Misner the best man he has ever and will ever know.
“Sean’s eyes lit up talking about you, Amanda,” said Prescott City Fire Division Chief Darrell Willis, who addressed Misner’s family. “He was really, really excited about having a son. You could tell that firefighter blood was running through his veins.”
Family and friends said Misner decided to become a firefighter like his grandfather, great-grandfather, uncles and cousin.
He moved to Prescott Valley with his wife and in April was excited to find out that he would be working for the “best of the best.”
In the letter to her son, Tammy Misner bid goodbye to her “bud.”
“I love you, and miss you more than words can express,” she said. “I have always been so proud of you and all your accomplishments.”
With her husband, Ron, at her elbow behind the podium, Tammy Misner’s voice cracked when remembering her last conversation with her son and telling him how much she loved him.
Ron Misner attempted to comfort those in the crowd, saying they should do whatever they do to the best of their ability to honor his son.
Against the night chill, attendees dabbed at tears and waved miniature American flags that had been handed out at the door, along with tissues and purple ribbons.
Misner’s uncles and fellow firefighters Tim McElwee and Montecito Fire Protection District Chief Terry McElwee said their father — the late Montecito Fire Chief Herb McElwee — was probably welcoming Sean Misner into heaven with open arms.
“Job well done,” Terry McElwee said.
A final salute and bell ringing were offered, and a dispatch came over the speakers to declare that Misner had “completed his last call.”
A band of bagpipes and recessional followed as the night fell into a silence no words needed to fill.