As former Murrieta city councilmember and battalion chief Alan Long reflected back on his relationship with Dean Hale, he couldn’t help but point out the sheer number of people that gathered to pay their respects Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Bridge Church in Murrieta.
“This is no surprise, the type of person Dean is, to attract so many people wanting to help him and his family to have so much love by his side,” Long said. “Everyone from his immediate family, his fire family, the city manager and the community all wanting to give back a little to Dean.”
After more than a decade fighting various forms of cancer, Hale finally lost a battle from job-related cancer. On Saturday, along with Long, fellow firefighters, family members and friends took the stage to honor the firefighter-paramedic that served the community of Murrieta since 2007.
A little more than a year since he arrived in the city, Hale was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma which was later revealed to be Stage 4, non-small cell lung cancer.
After months of treatment, Hale was declared cancer-free, but not for long.
Just nine months later, cancer had returned to his neck and brain. Again, after a year-and-a-half, he beat that form of cancer.
Then in 2018, he was told he was suffering from edema in his brain due to all the radiation in treatments over the years, and cancer had appeared on his spine.
The fact that Hale fought so valiantly against his illness came as no surprise to anyone that knew him, but they did not focus on what took his life and rather focused on the way the 51-year-old lived his life and the people he impacted.
Murrieta Fire & Rescue captain Todd Broadstreet summed up the man they had come to honor.
“I think that the amount of you all out there today speaks loudly of the impact the Dean had on all of our lives and this community,” he said. “And I think what made Dean so impactful was, that dude, he just knew how to love. The guys that knew him, you know exactly what I mean. Those of you don’t, you’re gonna learn today.”
His son Wyatt explained why he wanted to grow up to be just like his dad.
“First I wanted to say to my dad; you always be my hero,” Hale’s son, Wyatt Hale, said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I always looked up to him and I tried to do everything he did from trying to help him wash the cars or seeing him do his job and always trying to help people get whatever they needed to do, which made me want to become a firefighter just like him.”
Murrieta Mayor Kelly Seyarto reflected on the man he came to admire.
“When I got to know Dean a little more, I never even knew he had cancer,” Seyarto said. “Instead, his focus was always on doing things for other people and he was always cheerful, upbeat and optimistic about it.”
When Seyarto recalled a time he called to ask for Hale’s help on behalf of an elderly member of the community, he said he was surprised to find out that Hale was undergoing treatments in Santa Monica.
“But he’s willing to zoom back from Santa Monica after his treatments, which are just grueling and draining and still organize the troops and go help this lady,” Seyarto said. “It was amazing to me.”
Another person who Hale impacted was Paul Alvarado.
“He’ll forever be in my memory as a devoted family man, a faithful Christian, a fireman’s fireman, and frankly one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Alvarado said. “Much like the former explorers you see behind me and any current or former explorers in attendance today, I was a 14-year-old kid, barely entering high school. He gave us the skills we need to not only be successful firefighters but even more so the skills we need to be good people. He instilled in his hard work integrity, a passion for our craft and a desire to constantly improve.”
According to everyone at the service, the impact he had in his professional life was equaled or bettered by the effect he had on those in his personal life.
Hale is survived by his wife, Audrey, his three children, Wyatt, Stephanie and Brittany, his parents Tom and Jodi Hale and his sister, Dawn.
One of Hale’s twin daughters, Stephanie, thanked everyone for coming and expressed her admiration for her father.
“I just want to say thank you so much,” she said. “It’s quite humbling to stand up here and see just how big this crowd is here today to honor my dad.
“Mother always says that I’m your kid and I know she can’t be referencing our stubborn persistence or incurable sarcasm,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older and more mature, I like to think I carry many of your same qualities, whether it be your sense of humor, your dedication, everything you do, your ability to love fully and compassionately or simply your preference for whiskey. Sorry, Jesus. I know our relationship wasn’t flawless, but it was perfect.”
Brittany thanked her father for everything he taught her.
“Padre, there are so many words I never got to say but so badly want you to know,” she said. “I want to say thank you for demonstrating a selfless Christ-like love. You love others so fiercely, especially your family. Although you considered almost everyone family. You put everyone’s needs before your own. Thank you for showing me how to do life with your best friend, how to face the challenges together, head-on and choose each other every day.”
Hale’s wife Audrey wrote a letter to her husband, which was read by a family friend named Andrew.
“My love, my life here on earth will never be the same without you by my side,” Audrey said. “Life without you so far has been extremely difficult. There’s not a minute in the day that goes by that I don’t think about you or long to hold you, kiss you, or just to be by your side. It’s not going to be easy, but I will do my best to remain strong and carry on in this life without you, because I know that’s exactly what you would want. Always asking myself. What would Dean and Jesus do? I love you until we meet again.”
After praising the life of Hale, Murrieta Fire & Rescue Chief David Lantzer praised the commitment that Hale’s co-workers and colleagues showed to his family and each other.
“I have been watching you over the past few months in the past couple of weeks have seen how you have rallied to Dean’s family and to each other,” Lantzer said. “We have cried together. We have laughed together. We just sat around, sat around the table with blank stares together. Oh yeah. And we’ve toasted Dean to shots of Jack Daniels maybe once or twice. And then we start that cycle all over again. I mentioned that cause I have to say in front of all of these people how proud I am of you and how honored I am to be your chief.”
“You know, leadership isn’t something that comes with a badge or a title,” Seyarto said. “It is something that comes from one’s heart along with their brain that can turn what is in your heart into passion.
“Dean was passionate about his faith, his family, his profession and in helping his fellow man and he was a fierce warrior when it came to bettering the lives of his colleagues in the fire service.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.