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Luke Sheehy Remembered

by (Tributes from friends and fellow jumpers) |

Luke was born in Susanville, Calif., an area of majestic mountains lined with pine trees, bordered by the high desert and wide-open spaces. He was drawn to the outdoors and all the activities associated with it: hiking, trail running, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, snowmobiling and motorcycle riding.

He did it all. It’s no surprise he ended up pursuing the adrenaline-filled career of a smokejumper.

Throughout his childhood, so many loving friends and family surrounded Luke. This is what helped shape him into the man we all loved and deeply cared for. He was very easy to be around and he respected people for who they were. He was not one to pass judgment. His personality and oversized grin were infectious. Luke was “genuine.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Luke early in his firefighting career. It didn’t take long to figure out Luke was the guy everybody wanted to work with. You couldn’t help but be drawn to him. He was always having fun, but he was also an absolute workhorse.

Throughout the toughest assignments, he always had a smile on his face. He loved what he was doing. He lightened up the whole group and allowed us to become a very tightly-knit and efficient crew.

I truly enjoyed working with Luke, but the memories of him I cherish the most are those away from work. Over the years we became very close friends. I consider Luke a brother. Not a day went by that we didn’t communicate in some form or fashion. It was pretty easy since we lived about 400 yards from each other.

My family and I could always count on Luke to show up for dinner. When he was gone on a fire or out of town visiting family, the kids couldn’t figure out why Luke wasn’t there to eat.

Whether it was chores or just hanging out in the back yard, we were always together. It didn’t matter if it was his place or mine; knocking was not necessary. We had developed a relationship in which formalities were unnecessary. We could just walk into each other’s home and feel at ease.

In fact, sometimes he would be there when we got home, just waiting for us to show up. It was as if he had always been there, part of the family, and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.

I have so many fond memories of Luke. We loved sitting on the back deck, playing guitar with Ira, another good friend of ours who also lives in the neighborhood. In fact, we decided to name our three-man band “Rat Farm,” after a place where we would often hunt for ducks.

Luke was a very talented musician and could play multiple instruments. He was the only reason I ever picked up a guitar. The gift of music he gave me is something I will cherish the rest of my life.

We spent a lot of time hunting for deer in the Trinity Alps together. We would beat ourselves up hiking cross-country in search of the ultimate spot to find a huge buck. He loved the silence of the wilderness and sharing a sip of whiskey with a good buddy, high on a ridge, in the middle of nowhere. There are just too many good memories to list.

It has been very hard for my family and me to accept the loss of Luke. However, his passing has allowed many people in the firefighting family, and Luke’s family, to become very close to us. I have no doubt these bonds that have been created will last as long as we live.

This is proof that Luke’s spirit is alive and well in all of us. It is amazing how he touched so many of our lives in such a profound way. Luke Sheehy has forever changed my life, and for that I am grateful.
– Aaron Burrough (Friend)

Rain clouds moved in from the south that morning and a few showers had already fallen. By 8 o’clock people were gathering to get organized. By 10 o’clock fifty fire trucks and Hotshot crew rigs began staging in the west parking lot. By 11 a.m. the bagpipes and drums – 12 firemen and ex-firemen from Cal Fire and the Forest Service – were practicing with the combined color guards of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Cal Fire, the Redding Fire Department, and the National Park Service.

Old smokejumpers – organized by the NSA – met in the auditorium to receive their instructions on how to behave themselves and be good ushers. Just before the 1 p.m. starting time everything came together at the entrance to the center.

Fire trucks and Hotshot rigs lined the roadway on both sides. Three hundred uniformed fire personnel stood shoulder to shoulder in front of their rigs. At the front two ladder trucks had angled their ladders together to form a giant “A,” from which hung a 30-by-50-foot American flag.

At 1 o’clock sharp a 12-car motorcade bearing Luke’s family and friends entered and passed beneath the flag as hundreds of firefighters snapped a crisp salute and held it while the motorcade passed by.

All I can say is that Luke Sheehy’s memorial service was extraordinary in every way imaginable. There were around 1,500 people there - many in full-dress uniform - fire trucks from throughout the North State, the color guards, bagpipes and drums, and a great video/slide presentation of Luke’s life.

Best of all were Luke’s family and friends. After a brief introduction, Luke’s father, Doug, took the lead and set the tone by having the entire audience repeat a line from a poem that began with the words, “I will not die an unlived life.”

There followed songs by his dad, family and friends, plus special words from his mother and sister. A dozen people rose and spoke about Luke’s personality and being. There were a lot of tears. The whole program was an emotional and powerful testimony to a wonderful family and the great heart within the firefighting community.

To cap it off, there was a traditional smokejumper Big Flip at the barbecue across the river that afternoon. There were 102 entrants at $40 per head. All the proceeds were to go to the family.

After second-round buybacks, the total was about $4,500. The prize for the winning flipper was five of those great chain-saw carvings – a raccoon, an eagle, and three bears – that Redding smokejumper Mitch Hokanson (RDD-00) makes.

From 102, the flip went down to 52, in the first round, then to 25, then to 12, then to six. By the sixth round only three people remained. One was Luke’s Dad, Doug. A man threw first and got a head, a woman threw second and got a head, and we all knew that if Doug could throw a tail he would win it all. Everyone got excited and started chanting, “Doug, Doug, Doug, Doug …”

Doug smiled, looked at the sky, threw the quarter and – even in all the noise – you could see by the look on the judge’s face that he’d thrown a tail. Doug was immediately mobbed and danced around and around for two minutes. Let me tell you, it was magical. Absolutely magical.

Not long after the flip it got completely dark, the beer ran out, and it began to rain hard. Soon everyone was gone. The day we came together to mourn Luke’s passing was a painful and sorrowful one, for sure. But it was a beautiful one as well, filled with love, heart, and the cherished memory of a very special young man.
– Murry Taylor (RDD-65)

Luke was the youngest smokejumper candidate in our rookie class. If he didn’t tell us his age, we certainly wouldn’t have guessed it. He was, for his age, a seasoned woodsman.

I’ll never forget trying to figure out which climbing spur went on which foot as I frantically tried to make sure I wasn’t falling behind my rookie bros. I remember hearing one of the “old guys” ask Luke how he was doing and when he replied that he was “doin’ good,” I thought to myself: “You have got to be kidding me” as his voice was coming from the top of a big ole Doug fir. I looked around and luckily all the rest of my RBs were navigating the base of their respective trees.

It seems like every fire Luke came back from, somebody would say something about a “salty” thing he did or something wildly hilarious.

We have been going over Luke stories for a couple of weeks now. The more I think about it, and as highly as I regarded him while he was alive, it seems that stories just can’t do the man justice. He was the best RB a fella could ask for. He would never sell out his RBs for anything; no matter how widely accepted he was with the older guys.

He would give you the shirt off his back if he was having a hard day himself, and if he was having a good day – which was about 99 percent of the time – he would move a mountain for ya, and I truly believe he could.

It’s impossible to sum up the man he was, but I can assure the readership of this publication that he was everything, and more, an old smokejumper reading this would’ve wanted next to him/her in the woods. He would’ve kicked all of your asses up a hill and come back for more.

He was what you all hope a young smokejumper nowadays would be – loyal, rough, strong, and above all, A BRO.
– Joey Maggio (RDD-09)

A hard-nosed, caring man. Luke was a good friend and more-than-excellent person.

I first met Luke in the fire academy in 2004. Through the academy and all the years to follow, we were very good friends and had some excellent times together. He introduced me to, and brought together, many good people.

Luke could do or figure out anything that was in front of him and would never turn down a good time. Damned fine man and friend! I’ll be holding a grudge that you were taken from us all way too early, but I know I’ll see you again someday, my friend. Love ya.
– Chance Karlgaard (Friend)

Luke was definitely one of a kind. He had a goofy perma-grin and was one of the happiest people I have ever met.

Luke had a style of his own – a fine balance between a hippie and a lumberjack. I would always tease him about his choice in clothing. He would wear flannel, lumberjack-style t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off and fire pants hemmed as though he were waiting for a flood.

Luke was one strong dude. He took pride in running circles around the rookies and made the workouts look easy – all with that goofy smile on his face. He would often comment to the rooks on how much of a slug he was during the winter, as he was leading them into the second hour of calisthenics. His one-liners were priceless.

Luke had a personality like no other. Shortly after he passed his rookie training in 2009, I remember walking by him one day and out of nowhere I hear: “F--- you, Fashano!” which put me in a state of shock.

Then I looked over at him with his big, goofy smile and said to myself, “I like this guy.” Bold, brave, goofy, strong, genuine – that was Luke.
- Greg Fashano (RDD-99)

Luke was well suited to be a rookie PT instructor. Not only did he volunteer his time, but he did it with a smile. He had an easy manner about him – it didn’t matter if he was on the first rep of the first set of push-ups or the 25th rep of the 25th. He still had a smile and that easy manner.

He was bold, confident and sure of himself, but didn’t have an ego or special attitude about it. He was just one of the bros, a smokejumper who, if he was on your load, it was a good thing.

He was one of those guys whom even old guys could learn something about how to function better with a diverse group, like smokejumpers.
– Bob Bente (RDD-88)

“0800, the rack!” Those were our instructions virtually every morning of rookie training. We would be out there awaiting misery 20 minutes early, and we could always tell how hard of a morning it was going to be by judging the size of the smile on Luke’s face.

If he would come out with a big ol’ cheese grin, we knew we were in for it.

He was an outstanding rookie trainer. He dedicated two weeks of his free time to come out and push us. For as kind a person as he actually was, he sure could play hard ass and scare the hell out of us.

He was a machine. He walked through every PT with us and never showed a sign of fatigue.

He was a great motivator. The one thing we never wanted to be was “pathetic” in Luke’s eyes because this guy was so solid through and through. Luke was also one of the first jumper bros to start talking to us after rookie training was over. We all wanted to be his friend as he was such a stand-up guy. He hosted the after-party following the rookie party and invited us all to his place.

He was generous and took pride in us, and we are forever thankful for his commitment to the 2013 rookie class. We wish rookie classes in the future would get to experience the Sheehy strength because it was awesome! We love and miss our trainer, and we are proud to be Sheehy Rookies.
– Redding Rookie Class of 2013

Luke Sheehy was one of the best smokejumpers that I have ever worked with. When you got on the airplane en route to a fire and looked down the plane at the load, you would breathe a sigh of relief when you saw Pale Rider sitting down there.

He dug hand line like a machine and could run a saw all day long. A giant hole opened up at our base the moment he left us. He will never be forgotten.
– Brad Schuette (RDD-04)

My first memories of Luke are less than enjoyable; it was about the second or third week of rookie training when the trainers let a few of the old guys come out for our morning PT session. Of course Luke was there and since we didn’t know him yet, he was looking very intimidating.

My RBs and I were holding on for dear life, and I was just barely able to keep up with the endless calisthenics when I looked up and saw Luke smirking at me with his trademark smile.

“All the way down,” he scolded.
He kept up the “encouragement” throughout the rest of rookie training, all the while making the PT sessions look easy and the runs equally effortless.

Thankfully, the rest of my memories of Luke are enjoyable, and my respect continued to grow throughout the 2012 season and into the 2013 season.

As we drew for the list this year, I was disappointed when I pulled second from the bottom. The only person below me was Luke, but Luke wasn’t fazed; he never was. What I thought was my misfortune turned out to be my good fortune. I got to be Luke’s jump partner on a good-deal four-manner on the Six Rivers National Forest in early May.

We spent a few memorable days working the fire and trying to stay out of the rain, while Luke kept us entertained with stories around the campfire and continued to impress us with his eclectic music collection. I am grateful I got to spend time with a man I developed such a huge amount of respect and admiration for.
– Brett Newell (RDD-12)

We were working out at the California Smokejumpers weight area, which is about two stages below what inmates might have. There was a tour going on for about 10 or so Fire Academy cadets and their instructor. All of these kids were looking sharp in their uniforms, and for some reason, the instructor had them all in a line at parade rest.

They were standing there for about five minutes when Luke started playing with a big piece of pumice that Dorsey Lightner (RDD-89) had brought back to the base. It was about two feet square and weighed about 20 pounds, but looked like it weighed at least 100 pounds.

Luke started lifting it over his head, making it look heavy when one of the other guys said, “Hey Luke, won’t you run with that rock over your head in front of the academy kids.”

Luke got this big grin. You could tell he was thinking about it. He grabbed the rock, picked it up over his head, and started running in place. Then he took off in a straight line about 30 yards, made a left and ran right in front of the academy cadets who were still at a parade rest.

Luke ran right in front of them and kept going with a determined look on his face until he was out of sight. The cadets watched Luke run by them in disbelief. The instructor turned to his cadets and said with a stern voice, “Now that’s a smokejumper.”

Luke came back to where we were at the weights with the biggest smile, and we all sat around laughing our asses off.
– Dan Hernandez (RDD-85)

Pure … Luke was pure!! Luke never wavered for what he believed in … not for popularity, not for accolades, not to fit in, or to fit some mold someone thought he should be. Anyone who spent time around Luke knew that he would crawl across broken glass to New York for someone he cared about.

Luke had a consistency, grit, and a calmness to his character that I will never get the opportunity to be around again. It’s not common; it was precious.

It came from being raised in a family rooted in love and acceptance – a family whose power shook every person who attended the service. They laid the foundation for such an impressive man early in his life. Teaching him about teamwork, about compassion, and about the beauty of smiling with those you love.

His work ethic never wavered; he never complained; he never gave up, no matter the challenge – true grit. Luke was the friend everyone is lucky to have in life, even just one. He never judged, never appeased – just truly accepted and cared. He was the son every expecting mother and father dream about. He loved his family … purely … unconditionally … just as they loved him. We all have lost someone special in our life, but we all must be extremely thankful that we got to experience someone purely exceptional also.

Live like Luke … our friend will always be young.
– John Houston (Redding Fire Department)