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Fallen San Diego firefighters honored for their sacrifice

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGTV) – 82 firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice were permanently memorialized over the weekend, when their names were added to the California Firefighters Memorial.

The California Firefighter Foundation held the ceremony for the first time since 2019 because of the Pandemic. With the long layoff, they had an unusually large number of names to add.

It included 8 who either served, or used to serve in San Diego County:

Storm McInerny – North County Fire Department
Yaroslav Katkov – Cal Fire San Diego
Rudolph Metzger – Carlsbad Fire
Robert Praytor – Cal OES (started career in Fallbrook and Pendleton)
Jason O’Brien – Cal Fire San Diego
Chris Mertz – Rancho Santa Fe Fire
Andy Valenta – Vista Fire
Ryan Mitchell – Cal Fire SD / SD County Fire / US Forrest Service

“Seeing his name on the Memorial Wall was difficult,” says Caylie Valenta, the wife of Andy Valenta. He passed away in 2021 from melanoma.

“(This weekend) was emotional,” she says. “I don’t want him on that wall, but the fact that he will be up there forever is an incredible honor.”

Valenta started the Andy Valenta Melanoma Foundation in her late husband’s honor. She uses it to provide free skin cancer screenings to fire departments across the state.

Occupational cancer is the leading cause of death among fire fighters in California. Valenta says she hopes this foundation, and the memorial, can help ensure that no other family has to endure a loss like hers.