SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Son, brother, best friend, dream-chaser, a hard-worker with a zest for life.
Those were the sentiments to describe U.S. Forest Service firefighter Michael “Mikey” Hallenbeck during a candlelight vigil Wednesday night honoring his memory.
Hallenbeck, 21, of Shingle Springs, Calif., died Saturday when a tree fell on him while combatting a fire near Echo Summit.
Hundreds turned out to honor Hallenbeck, including family, friends, co-workers and fellow firefighters. Many shared stories and good times, while others shared hugs, tears and laughter. Music playing at the vigil came from a playlist of Hallenbeck’s favorite songs.
Marina Davis remembered Hallenbeck as an outgoing, selfless person, one who declined to have his dinner paid for during his 21st birthday.
“He had a lot of insights and good conversations,” Davis said, adding he wasn’t one to take life for granted. “We all respected him for that. He was like a little brother.”
Davis added becoming a firefighter for Hallenbeck was a purpose that turned his life around.
Nick Olson grew up with Hallenbeck, worked with him at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort and went through fire training with him.
“He had a lot of spirit,” Olson said. “He was like a little brother, someone you could pick on and tease, but at the end of the day, he was still your hommie.”
Olson said while others thought they were teaching Hallenbeck something, it turned out to be the other way around.
“He taught us a lot,” Olson said. “He was a dream chaser who took nothing from no one and voiced his own opinion.”
Olson added Hallenbeck had a passion for snowboarding that translated into his personal life.
“The kid was a shredder, always pushing himself to be a better shredder and person every day,” Olson said. “Without fear, he would bust out some pretty sweet tricks.”
Kirby Hallenbeck, Mikey’s father, thanked the gathered masses for the support shown to his son prior to lighting the main candle at the vigil with one he said had been last lit in Jerusalem.
“I can’t express how wonderful you are making my family and friends feel with the outpouring of love,” Kirby Hallenbeck said. “We are going through so much grief, and to have that reflection of love that our son shared with you reflected back to us is so comforting.”
John Rice, Sierra-at-Tahoe’s general manager, noted while he didn’t know Hallenbeck well, the fallen firefighter was part of the Sierra family.
“Sierra was Mikey’s home away from home,” Rice said. “This is where he worked, road his board, hung out with his posse and met his friends.”
Rice described Hallenbeck as a person who always had a “hello” and was full of positive energy.
“This guy was a buoy, not an anchor,” Rice said. “He didn’t weigh you down, he pulled you up.”
Kit Bailey, fire chief for the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said he shared a similar history with Hallenbeck: a West Slope resident, ski resort worker and, later, firefighter.
“He was so committed and motivated, and this is what he was all about,” Bailey said. “It was pretty inspiring to have Mikey’s spirit so elevated about being a firefighter. I hadn’t seen such enthusiasm for years.”
Michael Cagle, Hallenbeck’s roommate and fellow crew member, read an entry from Hallenbeck’s journal, a reflection of the positive attitude commented on by others: “I know I can do anything I set my mind to, and I will.”
Cagle remarked Hallenbeck was always full of life and brought out the best in people.
Thursday, a caravan of 40 vehicles started from South Lake Tahoe and wound itself down U.S. Highway 50 toward Meyers. The caravan passed under a flag suspended by two fire engine ladder trucks.
Fire personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and other South Shore agencies, including South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, Tahoe Douglas and Lake Valley fire protection districts, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol lined both sides of Highway 50, saluting Hallenbeck’s memory as the procession passed by.
Lisa Herron, spokeswoman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said the procession would pass by Sierra-at-Tahoe and through Placerville on its way to Green Valley Mortuary in Rescue, Calif.
In Placerville, West Slope fire agencies, the Eldorado National Forest and other organizations would show support, with fire equipment stationed along Highway 50 overpasses.