Jon Heggie got to know Cory Iverson when he was in his late teens and was eager to become a firefighter.
Even then. Heggie said, “you could see the passion that he had at an early age about the fire service.”
“I feel like I had seen him grow up, and I was so proud of him,” Heggie said.
Iverson became a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection engineer and immediately earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues, said Heggie, a spokesman for the agency.
He was “the kind of firefighter you could rely on. He was the best fireman you could hope to have on your team,” Heggie added.
Iverson, a fire apparatus engineer, died on the Thomas fire lines on Thursday. He had been with Cal Fire since 2009. The San Diego County resident is survived by his wife, Ashley, and a 2-year-old daughter. His wife is pregnant with their second daughter, due in the spring.
Cal Fire San Diego Chief Tony Mecham said at a media briefing in Escondido that the fallen firefighter had been with a five-engine strike team and engaged in a “very active part of the fire” just outside of Fillmore when the accident happened. He did not specify how Iverson was killed.
A motorcade proceeds down Highway 126 in Santa Paula carrying the body of firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, who died Thursday morning while battling the Thomas fire outside Fillmore.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Santa Paula city officials, police and firefighters salute from a bridge as the motorcade passes on Highway 126 carrying the body of a fallen Cal Fire engineer.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Santa Paula Police Chief Steven McLean, right, joins city officials, police and firefighters as the motorcade passes on Highway 126.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Gena Mathwin, left, is comforted by Debbie Moorman and Santa Paula police officers and firefighters as the motorcade passes on Highway 126.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A hearse arrives at the 1700 block of Grand Avenue in unincorporated Fillmore, where Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson died Thursday morning battling the Thomas fire.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Cal Fire personnel are emotional as they arrive at the scene near Fillmore where Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson died battling the Thomas fire.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Frefighters arrive at the scene where Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson died Thursday morning.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
All 17 of the firefighters on the strike team have been pulled off the fire lines. They had been at the Thomas fire since Dec. 5.
This incident has shaken our organization to the core,” Mecham said. “It has affected it statewide, but no more than here in San Diego County.”
Mecham said he learned of Iverson’s death when he took “the call that no fire chief ever wants to receive.”
“It just stunningly took my breath away,” Mecham said.
Mecham said San Diego Fire-Rescue sent eight fire engines so that Cal Fire firefighters most affected by Iverson’s death could take time to grieve.
Iverson’s uncle is a retired firefighter with Cal Fire and had worked with Heggie at the fire station in Rainbow.
“My heart shattered when I learned what happened to him,” Heggie said of Iverson’s death. “I can only imagine the pain his wife and his family are going through, and all of us in the fire service are feeling it for them.”
During Iverson’s Cal Fire career, he had worked in Tuolumne County in Central California, and also in Riverside County at the Hemet-Ryan Helitack Base before his assignment in Dulzura.
Cal Fire Director Chief Ken Pimlott announced the firefighter’s death in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“Please join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers and all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions,” he said in the written statement.
Speaking in Ventura, Pimlott said an accident review team had been assigned to review the circumstances that led to Iverson’s death.
“Until this review is complete, there is nothing more that I can share,” he said. “What I can say is ‘thank you’ for the outpouring of support for Cory’s family and the Cal Fire family.”
About 4 p.m.Thursday afternoon, Iverson’s body was loaded into a hearse and taken to the Ventura County Medical Examiner, with firefighters lining the road in tribute. There will be a formal procession when the body is brought south to San Diego County, authorities said.