Remembering Stockton, San Joaquin County firefighters who died in the line of duty – Stockton Record

Firefighters came from across the state and the country. Family members gathered and the Stockton community turned out to honor Stockton Fire Capt. Vidal “Max” Fortuna on Feb. 8.
Another dark day was observed this past week as well, Feb. 6 marked the 25th anniversary of the last time two Stockton firefighters died in the line of duty.  
They all are among the about two dozen San Joaquin County firefighters who have died in the line of duty.
Brett Alan Laws, 29, and Bryan Jacob Golden, 21, were killed after a house collapsed on them on Feb. 6, 1997.
Fire Capt. Oscar Barrera was seriously injured in the fire. Homeowner Jesslyn Pearson Ambrogio also died in the blaze.
According to a report released several months after the fire, firefighters who first arrived thought Ambrogio’s home was a single-story structure. Smoke and flames concealed the Mendocino Avenue home’s second floor, constructed at the rear of the house. Four vehicles parked in the driveway led firefighters to believe that the occupants and perhaps house guests were trapped inside.
Laws, Golden and Barrera were in the team of firefighters who entered the building and worked toward the rear, dousing flames. In the meantime, firefighters outside were spraying water on the second-floor addition.
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The report said it was as if firefighters inside and outside the house were fighting two different fires.
An internal investigation by the Fire Department concluded the fire battle was hampered by poor communication, inadequate equipment and a lack of strong leadership.
Top fire officials said Laws and Golden may have died even if every procedure had been followed by the book.
“Every year, we honor their legacy by speaking of their sacrifice, their camaraderie, and love for the job,” Stockton Firefighters Local 456 said in a Facebook post.
Those same themes were present at the services for Fortuna.
Red and white flowers adorned chairs and family and friends wore a red cross over their left chest.
The departments came from West Sacramento, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Visalia, and Long Beach. They came from Washington state and Minnesota.
A large group of family members traveled to Stockton for the ceremony. Relatives that had not seen him in years traveled from San Jose to say their goodbyes.
Darlene Rogan, a distant relative, traveled from San Jose to Stockton with her granddaughter Taylor Pennings.  
“He was very friendly. Always (had a) smile. Always happy to see you. Just a wonderful person. It’s too bad we lost him.” Rogan said. 
Memories were shared by members of the Stockton Fire Department who worked alongside Fortuna for years. “One member replied to me, ‘if Max is not in heaven today, none of us will,’” Lodi Fire Chief Ken Johnson said. 
Clements Rural
Alex S. Pirie, 1978
Linden-Peters Rural
James R. Pack, 1998
Forrest O. Eproson, 1974
Elton Lew Grotelueschen, 1962
John Franklin McMahon Jr., 1989
Paul Jacob Schierling, 1992
Tom Moore, 1999
Lanier Stanley Carlson, 1977
Joaquin Castello, 1911
Loren H. Causey, 1940
David Farrell, 1890
John P. Fifley, 1930
Vidal “Max” Fortuna, 2022
Bryan Jacob Golden, 1997
Frank Kingsley, 1877
Brett Alan Laws, 1997
Augustus Miller, 1870
James H. Raines Jr., 1982
Alexander Vint, 1918
Thomas J. Walsh, 1902
Johnny Williams, 1886
Christian Wolf, 1900
Kenneth E. Crosby, 2001
Eugene G. Mettler, 1947
Record reporter Angelaydet Rocha covers breaking news. She can be reached at or on Twitter @AngelaydetRocha. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at


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