First responders gather for fallen firefighter Captain Mike Shepard

Los Angeles County Fire fighters salute as the L.A.Fire Honor Guard lowers the flag which had flown over L.A. County Fire Station 132 in Santa Clarita in honor of fallen L.A. Fire Captain Michael Shepard on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Scores of firefighters in dark blue uniforms gathered at Fire Station 132 Thursday morning in silence, with arms raised in salute, as a flag ceremony unfolded in honor of Station 132 Capt. Michael Shepard.

First responders came from all over the county, based on the insignias seen on fire engines and sheriff’s vehicles parked for more than two blocks on both sides of Thompson Ranch Drive, at Sand Canyon Road.

The United States flag was lowered at the station, then ceremonially folded for presentation to Shepard’s family. The flag is to be given to the family at a memorial service slated to 10 a.m. Friday at the Real Life Church.

“Capt. Shepard was a dedicated member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Chaplain Daniel Hathaway told the group gathered aloingside Shepard’s family and close friends.

Once the flag was folded, the gathered firefighters, family and friends silent, bagpiper Darrell Calvillo played “Amazing Grace.”

Fatal crash

The crash happened about 11:17 a.m., Jan. 23, involving a Jeep and a Caltrans GMC 3500 with a dump truck bed, on the northbound lanes of Highway 14, south of Sand Canyon Road.

In sharing the details of Shepard’s dedicated service to the fire department, Hathaway said Shepard became, at that time, the oldest person to successfully complete the Los Angeles County Fire Department Recruit Academy at the age of 51.

“Very few individuals older than him have been able to achieve that same accomplishment,” Hathaway said.

His story, by his example, has remained inspiring.

“His classmates were so inspired by his leadership that they voted him to be their Recruit Class Valedictorian,” Hathaway said.

Shepard began his career with the Fire Department in 1997 as a fire equipment mechanic, working 10 years as “repair 20,” servicing and fixing the same equipment he would respond in years later.

Natural leader

He officially became a firefighter in 2006, after having graduated from Recruit Class 121. But, he didn’t stop there.

Shepard went on to earn several special certificates. He became a paramedic and also a certified urban search and rescue member.

As a search and rescue “logistics manager” he went on to help with the rescue efforts in the 2011 Japan Earthquake and its resulting tsunami, as well as the 2017 Mexico City earthquake and last year’s mudslides in Montecito.

During all that time, Shepard rose in the ranks, first to firefighter, then to firefighter specialist and, most recently, to captain.

And, if scores of firefighters came to Thursday’s flag ceremony from all across the county, it was likely because Shepard worked side-by-side with them.

One of those people paying tribute was California Highway Patrol Capt. Edward Krusey, of the Newhall Station.

Fellow first responders

“We work hand-in-hand in all situations,” Krusey said after the ceremony. “(Firefighters) are one of our fellow first responders.”

Krusey who was on the scene of the crash that claimed Shepard’s life and at the fatal crash in the Grapevine last weekend that claimed the life of a search and rescue volunteer, said: “It’s been a rough week,” noting that one of the nine others hurt in Grapevine crash was also a firefighter.

“We work together on a lot of things,” Krusey said about what he described as a family of first responders.

Also attending the ceremony was city of Santa Clarita Councilman Bob Kellar.

“First of all, I can’t say enough great things about the Los Angeles County Fire Department. This is an incredible loss to all these men and women who work here,” Kellar said.

“I’m so sorry to have to attend but I would not, not attend the recognition for Capt. Shepard. And, all I can say is God bless his family and God bless the L.A. County Fire Department.”

Shepard’s life story is scheduled to shared by his family with the public Friday morning, beginning at 10 a.m., at Real Life Church on Newhall Ranch Road at Grandview Drive.

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