Eric was one of the best,’ family and friends say of Orange County firefighter who died in freeway suicide
HUNTINGTON BEACH — Firefighters, some with bagpipes and drums, gathered Monday morning with hundreds of others at the base of the pier to remember Capt. Eric Weuve, who spent 16 years working for the Huntington Beach Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority.
A week ago, Weuve, 41, stepped off the Crown Valley Parkway overpass above I-5 in Mission Viejo and was struck by a big-rig.
During the hourlong memorial, childhood friend Erik Brown recalled Weuve as warm, intelligent and well-read who while growing up was a hockey player who excelled as a goaltender.
“On the ice, he protected the net,” Brown told the crowd. “Off the ice, he protected our lives.”
Ken Gabrielson, a retired captain who worked with Weuve at the Fire Authority’s Station 64 in Westminster, said firefighters enjoy assigning nicknames to their colleagues. Weuve was Xerxes – named after the Persian king from “300.”
“When he entered the room, people took notice,” Gabrielson said. “His smile was contagious; he had a very calm demeanor, a great sense of humor, and a phenomenal work ethic. ...
“He’s the only firefighter I know that actually turned down a promotion,” Gabrielson told the crowd, assembled in Pier Plaza, an amphitheater. “He felt that he wasn’t ready. ... But Eric was one of the best.”
In 2015, 132 firefighters took their own lives in the U.S., more than those who died from job-related injuries and illnesses, according to the International Association of Firefighters. One reason for firefighter suicide could be post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the association.
Jeff Bowman, the Fire Authority’s chief, said first responders tend to show their strength and hide their weaknesses.
“We hire on to be rescuers,” Bowman said. “We don’t want to be rescued, and so we deny we have problems.”
The chief told the crowd that the Fire Authority has been working on an initiative to help firefighters deal with on-the-job traumas, but that program won’t be activated until January: “Too late for Eric. ...
“The OCFA family has a huge hole in its heart today,” Bowman said. “This is a hole that will never close.”
Officials don’t know why Weuve apparently took his life, and the uncertainty lingers in the minds of his co-workers – his friends – at Station 64.
Firefighter/paramedic Matt Schuetz went up to the lectern. Fellow firefighters Tommy Olivera and Jonathan Biegler joined him.
“I wanted to bring these guys up here so the four of us could be together one last time,” said Schuetz, fighting back tears. “Eric would have wanted that.”
Sitting in the front row were Weuve’s parents; his son, Parker, 14; his daughter, Brooklyn, 6; and his wife, Melanie.
Brooklyn rested her head on her mother’s lap throughout the ceremony. Parker sat straight, occasionally dabbing his eyes as the hands of his father’s firefighting brothers gripped his shoulders from behind.
The son held his dad’s badge, while the daughter held his helmet. His wife caressed a folded American flag.
Weuve’s turnout gear – his firefighting jacket and pants – were displayed nearby.
Passers-by – surfers, volleyball players and bicyclists – stopped and stood at attention as bagpipe players and drummers from the two fire agencies played “Amazing Grace.”