A section of Highway 41 now serves as a memorial to a deceased Los Padres National Forest central coast based firefighter.
Family and members of the fire community gathered on Sunday for the unveiling of signs declaring a section of Kings County Road as “LPF 31 Battalion Chief Gary Helming Memorial Highway.”
Helming passed away on August 31, 2017 in a vehicle accident on Highway 41 while returning to the Central Coast after working on the railroad fire near Yosemite National Park.
At the time of his death, Helming, 47, was assigned to the Santa Lucia Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest in northern Santa Barbara and southern San Luis Obispo counties.
He and his family — his wife Andrea, who also worked for the US Forest Service, and their three children — lived in San Luis Obispo County.
With the California Legislature approving the highway’s name after Helming, and his colleagues, family and friends began donating through a GoFundMe page to raise the approximately $7,000 needed to pay for the new signs.
New signs mark the Gary Helming Memorial Highway along a stretch of Highway 41 in Kings County. (photo from Los Padres National Forest)
Firefighters from multiple agencies in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties attended a sign unveiling ceremony on Sunday.
Helming began working for the Forest Service in the mid-1990s as a seasonal firefighter. He also worked for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service before returning to the Forest Service in 2013.
In January 2015, Helming was surprised to hear his name called out as a U.S. Forest Service laureate at the Annual Santa Maria Elks Firefighter Appreciation Night when he was recognized as “an excellent mentor, teacher and leader”, who maintained “a very balanced head and a positive attitude” despite the challenges.
“What I learned about Gary lets me know he had a passion – he had a passion for his family, he had a passion for helping others and a passion for public service,” said Tony Tooke, Chief of the US Forest Service in Washington. , DC, said during the Santa Maria Memorial Service for Helming.
A section of Highway 41 is named after Los Padres National Forest firefighter Gary Helming. (photo from Los Padres National Forest)
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