A segment of Highway 41 now serves as a memorial to a fallen Los Padres National Forest firefighter based on the Central Coast.
Family and members of the firefighting community gathered Sunday for the unveiling of the signs declaring a section of the Kings County road as the “LPF Battalion Chief 31 Gary Helming Memorial Highway.”
Helming died Aug. 31, 2017 in a vehicle crash on Highway 41 while returning to the Central Coast after working on the Railroad Fire near Yosemite National Park.
At the time of his death, Helming, 47, was assigned to the Los Padres National Forest’s Santa Lucia Ranger District in northern Santa Barbara and southern San Luis Obispo counties.
He and his family — wife Andrea, who also worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and their three children — lived in San Luis Obispo County.
The California Legislature approving naming the highway after Helming, and colleagues, family and friends began giving donations through a GoFundMe page to collect the approximately $7,000 needed to pay for the new signs.
Firefighters from multiple agencies in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties attended a ceremony for the unveiling of the signs on Sunday.
Helming began working for the Forest Service in the mid-1990s as a seasonal firefighter. He also worked for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service before returning to the Forest Service in 2013.
In January 2015, Helming was surprised to hear his name called as the U.S. Forest Service honoree at the annual Santa Maria Elks Firefighter Appreciation Night when he was recognized as “a great mentor, teacher and leader,” who maintained “a very level head and positive attitude” despite challenges.
“What I learned about Gary lets me know he had passion — he had a passion for his family, he had a passion for helping his fellow man, and a passion for public service,” Tony Tooke, chief of the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C., said during the Santa Maria memorial service for Helming.