Newport firefighter was 'a legend'

He had an eye for detail.

Bill "Dutch" Van Horn left behind copious amounts of notes, names and pictures from his decades with the Newport Beach Fire Department, and showed his precision and focus in the lifelike wooden ducks he carved as decoys.

Firefighters say there won't be another guy like Van Horn, who died from an accident in his home on June 6. He was 83.

"He was an unbelievable guy. He was so humble," said retired Newport Beach firefighter Jerry Strom, who worked with Van Horn for years. "Other people had to tell you about him because he didn't talk about himself much."

In the days since his death, Van Horn's co-workers have grieved together through e-mails and phone calls sharing their memories, and in one case, through a newspaper column.

"It didn't take long to realize that he was a dependable, hard-working, detail-oriented kind of guy," wrote retired firefighter John Brannon in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

"I learned what life was about through guys like him," Strom said. "In the department we have 'Safety, Service, Professionalism.' That was his credo throughout life … he was liked by everybody. He's kind of a legend for our fire department."

Van Horn joined the fire department as a paid employee in 1957, but by then had shown he had what it takes. He was a volunteer who lived on Balboa Island and would respond to calls with the firefighters if he could get to the island's station in time.

In 1956, he was one of the men on the hose during a huge restaurant fire at Castaways bluff off West Coast Highway and Dover Drive. He described walking into the kitchen's small halls with a wall of flames in front of him. Soon after that, he decided to do firefighting full time and was hired.

"He set a great example to everybody that was in the fire service in Newport Beach," Strom said. "He just kind of set the bar."

Before joining the department, Van Horn had been a shipwright and joiner at the Lido Shipyard.

Van Horn's encyclopedic knowledge of baseball was legendary, as was his penchant for recording the name and photo of every person who volunteered or was hired by the department since its inception.

Shortly before he died, he and an old co-worker completed a book on the history of the fire department. It has been sent to a publisher, Strom said.

"He sounds almost too perfect, but that's the way he was," Strom said.

Van Horn's family will hold a memorial for him today in Costa Mesa.

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