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‘The ultimate sacrifice’: Firefighter dies after battling Rancho Palos Verdes blaze

The body of Los Angeles County firefighter Jonathan Flagler, covered with an American flag, is wheeled from the hospital
The body of Los Angeles County firefighter Jonathan Flagler is wheeled from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. Flagler was injured battling a fire in Rancho Palos Verdes on Thursday and later died.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County firefighter died Thursday from injuries received while battling a predawn blaze in Rancho Palos Verdes, officials said.

Jonathan Flagler, 47, sustained “significant injuries” while fighting a house fire on Tarapaca Road, the firefighters union said. He leaves behind his wife, Jenny, and two sons, ages 13 and 15.

Flagler and other crew members from Fire Station 83 were called to the blaze around 2 a.m. A fire had started in the attic of a home, L.A. County Fire Department interim Chief Anthony Marrone said during a news conference Thursday morning.

‘His bravery and his sacrifice will never be forgotten,’ L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said.

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“The smoke and the fire overcame my member, and he put out a mayday for assistance from the other firefighters that were at the scene,” Marrone said. “They were able to quickly locate him, rescue him and then start the lifesaving procedures as necessary.”

The veteran firefighter was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he later died.

Firefighters Local 1014 said Flagler was a 21-year veteran who spent 19 years with the city of Vernon Fire Department until it was absorbed by the L.A. County Fire Department in October 2020. He was “known for his dedication and commitment to the profession,” the agency said.

“This incident is a sobering reminder of the real dangers our members face each and every day as we fight to keep our communities safe,” the union said.

During the news conference, L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the firefighters were able to save the family from the burning house, “but tragically, one of our own Los Angeles County firefighters lost his life in the effort.”

Condolences poured in as the morning wore on, and a procession was formed to transport Flagler’s body to the coroner’s office, with firefighters, friends and family following behind.

Outside the coroner’s office, Matt and Sunny Holtzendorff said Flagler — a friend of 20 years — was a family man who loved the beach and loved to entertain.

“He was a great husband, great father, dedicated and there for his kids all the time,” said Matt Holtzendorff, a Fire Department engineer. “He was a great firefighter. He always made the station life fun, and he was a good person to be around.”

Sunny Holtzendorff said Flagler “had a fantastic sense of humor” and “the best laugh.”

“He’s going to be very, very missed,” she said. “This really hits deep.”

Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Dave Bradly directed flags at all city facilities to be lowered to half-staff in Flagler’s honor.

“We are keeping his family, the firefighters of Station No. 83 and the entire Los Angeles County Fire Department family in our thoughts,” Bradley said in a statement. “The city will never forget his sacrifice and courage.”

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was “deeply saddened” by the news.

“He has made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the line of duty. I send my most sincere condolences to his family and Fire Department colleagues. His bravery will not be forgotten,” she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom released a statement calling Flagler’s “devastating loss … a reminder of the dangers our heroic firefighters face every day to protect Californians” and said Capitol flags would be flown at half-staff.

During a separate news conference Thursday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called for a moment of silence for the fallen firefighter.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said, “When we lose a firefighter in the fire service, it affects us all.”

“Today’s loss was a reminder that life is fragile, and firefighters’ lives are fragile,” Terrazas said.

Aerial footage of the hillside home captured by KTLA-TV showed a significant portion of the structure had been burned.

Lt. Charles Calderaro of the L.A. County sheriff’s homicide bureau said Flagler “became incapacitated” after the structure was engulfed in flames. The homicide bureau, along with arson investigators, Cal/OSHA and the sheriff’s crime lab, is investigating the cause of the fire, he said.

Marrone said the department’s priority was the care of Flagler’s family, as well as his “brothers and sisters in uniform.”

Hahn said the firefighter’s sacrifice “will never be forgotten.”

“It is our firefighters who don’t think twice when the bell is rung to respond to whatever is out there — they have no idea until they get there” Hahn said. “I’m sure he had no idea when he left and put his equipment on that sadly he wouldn’t be coming back.”

Times staff writers Luke Money and Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.


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