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Death of Popular Firefighter Stuns Family, Friends

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The body of a Santa Ana firefighter was pulled early Saturday morning from the waters of Lake Havasu, Ariz., where the 46-year-old man drowned after a boating mishap four days ago.

Flags were at half-staff at all 10 Santa Ana fire stations on Saturday following the news that the body of George Anthony Corrales had been recovered. The Westminster resident and father of two reportedly tumbled into the water after the ski boat he was on was struck by a 49-foot ferry.

Corrales’ wife, Gail, described her husband as a dedicated family man and a consummate professional who loved his career. The greatest tragedy, she said, is the void that has been created in the lives of their sons, Eric, 17, and Mark, 13.

“The boys are doing well, considering,” Gail Corrales said. “We have a motto--We will survive this. Everyone has been wonderful, very supportive and kind. But it’s so hard. Why is it that the good guys are the ones who go?”

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With her voice cracking, she added, “I just really had 18 of the most wonderful years of my life and I am grateful for everything given to me and to me sons. It was a great tragedy.”

Witness accounts placed Corrales, who was a strong swimmer, near the point of impact during the collision. He may have been injured or unconscious when he went overboard, authorities said. Also aboard the ski boat were Corrales’ son Mark, four other Santa Ana firefighters and a circle of friends from the Lake Havasu area, said Santa Ana Fire Capt. John Jason.

One passenger, Gregory Philip Lumsdaine, 28, of Cypress, was listed in good condition Saturday at Havasu Samaritan Regional Hospital. Others aboard suffered only minor injuries.

Corrales’ fellow firefighters were still in the grip of shock on Saturday as they remembered a man who was known for his warm smile and easygoing demeanor. Corrales’ supervisor took sick leave to wrestle with his grief, and the rank and file at Fire Station No. 6 were still trying to accept that Corrales would not return.

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“It’s been extremely difficult,” Deputy Fire Chief Ray Comeau said. “The ripples are still going throughout the department. It has been difficult for everyone. It’s just devastating. It’s hard to lose one of our fire family, and that’s what we really are: a family.”

Firefighters know the career has an inherent risk--on any call, a member of the unit might not make it back. But losing a peer in such a random way caught the department off guard, his close friends said.

“I was just getting off work when they put it over the vocal [in-station intercom] that there had been an accident,” said Jason, who will deliver the eulogy for Corrales. “There was a dead silence in the station. No sound at all. It was like the wind was knocked out of everyone. You just don’t expect to lose a friend that way.”

The ski boat was on a slow cruise returning to shore when the collision occurred at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jason said. It was Corrales’ second visit to the popular resort area on the Colorado River. He had recently chipped in with friends to buy a mobile home along the shore, an investment he hoped would allow him to spend more quality time with his sons and give him a chance to teach them how to water ski, friends said.

“He was an excellent father,” Jason said. “He was patient and he really enjoyed his boys. He got enjoyment out of watching the kids do normal, everyday things. He really loved his family.”

The loss extends throughout the entire Orange County firefighting community, said Santa Ana Battalion Chief Bill Zastrow. Corrales taught firefighter safety courses at Rancho Santiago College for more than a decade, and his pupils went on to work throughout the region.

“You’re talking about thousands of people, literally thousands, of people from all the different departments,” Zastrow said. “He will be missed by a lot of people.”

Jason remembered his felled friend as “a unique individual, the light everyone focused on.” On Saturday, Jason still found it hard to believe his best friend was gone. He recalled lazy days playing golf in San Diego with Corrales and their shared family excursions to Disneyland. Jason also reflected on the times Corrales helped him weather the emotional trauma that comes with the job.

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“When things were rough, he was there,” Jason said. “He always told me he wanted to be there for me. He said some friends came and go, but your chums, you live with them forever. The good friends are the ones who help you get through the tragedies.”

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, where Corrales worshiped and visited on Monday nights to lead bingo games. The church is 14072 Olive Street in Westminster. A rosary is also scheduled in honor of Corrales at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. For more information, call (714) 892 4489.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church School sports fund.


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