Mickey Kaitangian spent his 29-year career as a Fresno firefighter on the front lines.
There was once a rumor he was training to promote, but that ended quickly after he had to operate water pumps as others battled flames.
“He always wanted to be the one taking the hose into the fire,” said longtime friend and coworker Casey Clark, a retired battalion chief. “He was the first to go into the fire and the last to come out. … He wanted to do the job that was closest to the danger.”
In his retirement, he continued his service to the community as a devoted volunteer and ambassador for the Fresno Fire Department.
He died Tuesday at the age of 83. His son Kelly Kaitangian said his father remained active until the end of July, when his health declined.
Fresno Fire Department Chief Kerri Donis said Mr. Kaitangian was the first volunteer to arrive at any event, and the last to leave.
“He just had such a giving heart and wanted to help,” Donis said. “That’s all he did: helping others and giving of himself.”
He routinely visited Valley Children’s Hospital, including at Easter and Christmas, to hand out toys.
Mr. Kaitangian’s faith was central in his life. He paid monthly visits to each Fresno fire station to drop off devotional Christian pamphlets.
The fire department announced Mr. Kaitangian’s passing in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Some of the comments on the post:
“Every day was a good day to Mickey. What a positive, energetic and wonderful guy. The world needs more like him.”
“The city of Fresno has lost a HERO and a great humanitarian.”
“Beautiful soul and sweet man.”
“Heaven is getting a great firefighter.”
Donis said Mr. Kaitangian was so physically fit that during a test of aspiring firefighters around 15 years ago, he ran a mile faster than some of the young recruits – even though he was running with the help of a walker at that time.
He would attend some events dressed as the “Preventer,” a superhero who teaches children about fire prevention and safety, and was a docent at a Fresno fire exhibit at the Fresno County Historical Museum. He was such a fixture there that a mannequin may be made of him and placed inside an antique engine at the museum, said Gerry Smith, retired Fresno fire captain and a past union president of Fresno City Firefighters Local 753.
“I never saw him down ever,” Smith said. “Even at the end, when he was in the hospital, he tried to smile the last time I saw him.”
As a member of Firefighters for Christ, he visited New York City ahead of the one-year anniversary of 9/11 to help firefighters there.
The helmet he wore was decorated with stickers of a Christian cross and an American flag.
His long list of service includes Firefighters Creating Memories, where firefighters escort children around The Big Fresno Fair; selling Kids Day newspapers to raise money for Valley Children’s Hospital; and a Fresno fire fundraiser for the burn center at Community Regional Medical Center.
Son Kelly Kaitangian said his father’s love of firefighting began as a child, growing up in southeast Fresno.
“He and his brother grew up very poor; their father had left them,” Kelly Kaitangian said. “Down the street from their house was Fire Station 4. He would see a fireman sitting out on break and go talk to him and hang out with him.”
Mr. Kaitangian became a Fresno firefighter in 1964 at age 29. He served at several Fresno stations until he retired in 1993.
Before his firefighting career, he was a U.S. Navy mechanic for the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, and served on the USS Ranger (CV-61) aircraft carrier.
He also volunteered for pit crews of famous race car drivers, including Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt, and played semi-pro baseball.
His sons considered him a “superhero.” Even after long shifts, he made time to play with them growing up and help them with homework.
“If we required discipline, he did it through love instead of being harsh,” Kelly Kaitangian said. “It was always patience, understanding and love.”
He “would sacrifice himself for others and for their well-being,” his son said, “and he didn’t expect anything in return for that.”
Donis said of Mr. Kaitangian: “We are so proud to have called him ours.”
Born: May 27, 1935
Died: Aug. 28, 2018
Survivors: Wife Betty Kaitangian, sons Kelly and Raymond Kaitangian, and six grandchildren.
Visitation: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 9 at Palm La Paz funeral home, 2983 Tulare St., Fresno.
Funeral service: 10 a.m. Sept. 10, Peoples Church, 7172 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno.