Hundred of firefighters from New Haven and around the country have come to New Haven to honor and celebrate the life of firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr. as he is laid to rest today.
Torres, a 30-year-old father of one son with another due this summer, died last Wednesday in the line of duty when he went into a burning home on Valley Street in New Haven, to rescue people and fight the fire.
Torres, who grew up in West Haven, had dreamed of being a firefighter from the age of 2. He joined the New Haven Fire Department in July 2019 and was assigned to Engine 6, Fourth Division.
Torres' family was presented with the Martin E. Pierce Medal of Honor during the funeral service and Torres' name will be placed on the International Association of Fire Fighters Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial by Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Several of Torres' family members and fellow firefighters spoke during his service and told the story of a dedicated and passionate firefighter who was living his dream and of a man devoted to his family.
They combined moments of solemnity and pain with moments of laughter while remembering a man known around the fire department as "tornado."
Torres’ wife, Erica Martinez, spoke in during the funeral.
She shared the story of how they met, on Plenty of Fish, and of their first date, which went on for hours. Life with Ricardo, she said, was anything other than boring.
She shared the pain of losing her husband.
“Rick, I’m angry. I miss you,” she said. “I don’t care about you being a hero."
You’re supposed to go to work, do your job and come home, she said.
“I need you,” Martinez added.
Torres’ mother, Cathy Foster-Mendez, spoke during the service Thursday morning as well and said she never imagined that she would be speaking at her son’s funeral.
“I cannot believe that you’re gone, and it does not seem real,” she said.
Foster-Mendez said she looks at the door, expecting her son to walk through, kiss her and ask how she is doing.
“Our lives were better because you were in it,” she said through her tears.
“Rest in peace my beautiful boy until we meet again,” Cathy Foster-Mendez said.
Lt. William Riggott said Torres wanted to learn everything about being a firefighter and to do everything.
He shared a story of one call they responded to, The person they were helping spoke Spanish and Riggott said he attempted to communicate with the woman, but it did not go well, so Torres stepped in.
After that call, Riggott said, Torres made a deal with him. He asked Riggott to teach him everything he knew and Torres said he would try and teach Riggott Spanish.
Captain Kendell Richardson shared stories of Torres' strong work ethic and said he wanted to save as many lives as possible.
His priorities were his wife and son, his family and the fire department, Richardson said.
Richardson said he's broken and has not been able to sleep. During his emotional speech, Richardson pledged to be there for Torres' family.
New Haven Fire Chief John Alston said he wanted to be sure the more than 300 firefighters in the department could attend the funeral service for Torres, so many out-of-town crews and trucks are serving the city.
“That was important so that we maintained coverage and that we also allow for our members, any of our members who needed either counseling or support or to be at any of the services - allow them to freedom to grieve,” Alston said.
Alston interviewed and hired Torres and said he knew Torres was passionate from the very beginning.
As a firefighter, he loved his crew and respected his lieutenant and captain.
If he were to put a title on his speech, Alston said, he would call it lessons he learned from Ricardo.
The first lesson was to follow your dreams. No one gets anywhere by themselves, Alston said. Be honest and forthright. The next lesson was love and to cherish every moment and not to take any day for granted.
He has also learned about loss.
“When I lost him, it cut through my very core,” Alston said.
“We will never forget him,” Alston said.
Alston said Ricardo will be honored with a symposium on firefighter tactics, mental health, support services, leadership and partner support.
“Rest in peace. We’ll take it from here,” Alston said.
Firefighters from across the state gathered at Sports Haven Thursday morning and traveled on buses to Church of St. Mary on Hillhouse Avenue so they could line the streets of New Haven as the procession passed by to pay their respects to a man who gave his life to serve others.
Many said Torres’ death affected fire departments across the state and country and it was important to show their support.
“It’s a very somber day. It reminds me, it reminds us all, what a dangerous job this is, but also on a day like this it shows the brotherhood,” Battalion Chief Chris Rosa, of the East Haven Fire Department, said. “You’ll see thousands and thousands of firefighters not only from the state of Connecticut but from around the country all come here to pay their tributes to firefighter Torres and that’s what the brotherhood is all about.”
A procession left headquarters and continued Grove Street to Whitney Avenue and around to Hillhouse Avenue to the church.
There are road closures are in place for the services honoring Torres.
After the service, a tribute is planned by area fire departments to salute Torres’ procession from New Haven along Interstate 91 to Hartford, where he’ll be buried in a private ceremony.
All U.S. and state flags in the state have been flying at half-staff since the death of Torres. Gov. Ned Lamont is directing U.S. and state flags in Connecticut to return to full-staff at sunset this evening.