Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series about members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Family Support Group.
by Breanne Foster
Dorothy and Craig Foster met just after high school, but they both dated and even married other people before they tied the knot in 1989. Craig, the son of Los Angeles County Fire Captain Herbert “Mickey” Foster, followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps into the profession and became a third-generation firefighter.
Dorothy was the manager of a restaurant; she decided to stay home once she had children.
“Craig was a very big man both in his size and his personality,” Dorothy said. “He had a great laugh that lit up my days. Physically, he was an imposing 6 foot 4 inches tall with blond curly hair that made him look like a lion when it got long.” His nickname at the station was “Chewy” or “Chewbacca.”
Despite his imposing physical appearance, Craig was the person everyone knew they could turn to if they ever needed help.
“One summer, one of our neighbors had fallen and injured her leg,” Dorothy said. “Her husband called on Craig to see if he could do anything. One look, and he knew that she had broken her ankle. He scooped her up like she was a small child, put her in the car and off to the hospital they went.”
Craig had two families in his life: his wife and children, and his firefighter family. He had worked at the County for 30 years, reaching the rank of engineer.
“He really liked being on the engine and probably would have stayed there until he retired,” said Dorothy. He was about three years away from retirement when he died.
“Craig died on our daughter’s 10th birthday (Feb. 10, 2005),” Dorothy said. “That morning he was complaining of shoulder pain, but we didn’t think much of it.
“I took both kids to school—I was gone less than 20 minutes—and when I got home he had suffered a heart attack.
“I remember the chaos trying to do CPR, get the dogs locked up, and open our security gate while on the phone with 911,” Dorothy continued. “When they found out he was an L.A. County firefighter, they started making calls I couldn’t even think of yet and managed to reach his station within minutes. Soon friends of Craig’s and mine started showing up. Ventura County Fire Department had also contacted one of their chaplains to be with me until the chaplain from L.A. County could be with me.”
At the hospital, the doctor told Dorothy that her husband had died.
“All I could think of was how was I going to tell our kids that Dad wasn’t going to come home,” Dorothy said. “They were 10 and 12 years old. That was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do.”
Several friends stayed with Dorothy and her kids for a few days. Chaplain Elvin Miranda helped with funeral arrangements and all the necessary Departmental procedures.
“Elvin was with us for emotional and spiritual support for weeks. His advice was invaluable,” said Dorothy. “I would never have been able to muddle through it all on my own.”
Shortly after Craig’s service, then-coordinator of the Department’s Family Support Group Ingrid Weiss-Salveson invited Dorothy to lunch.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go,” said Dorothy, “but part of me knew that I had to stay busy. So I met with her and had a really nice time.”
Among other things, they talked about different benefits available for families of fallen firefighters, including scholarships for children. Weiss-Salveson also invited Dorothy to a luncheon with the other widows.
“When I met this group of women, it was comforting to know that someone really did understand how I felt,” Dorothy said. “One of the things I couldn’t understand was this total brain fog; I felt like half of my brain had just stopped working. They knew exactly what I was feeling and I wasn’t going crazy.”
“We would talk and laugh about so many things other than our loss,” she said. “This is a group of women of varying ages and experiences, and I found them to be women that I enjoy knowing, even if we did come together during the worst time in our lives.”
“It is nice to see with your own eyes that life does go on.”
Photo gallery: Photos of Craig, Dorothy, Jonathan and Breanne Foster. Courtesy Foster family.