MODESTO -- Family, friends and firefighters from around the state gathered in Modesto to remember Braden Varney, who died July 14 after the bulldozer he was using to fight the Ferguson Fire overturned in a ravine.
Around 2,000 people attended the celebration of life and Varney’s wife Jessica spoke of how he was an outstanding father and husband. They were only married seven years, but to Jessica Varney, the memories will last a lifetime
"That man gave me everything my heart ever longed for," Jessica Varney said. "Even if we did without the rest of our lives together there's nothing more he could have given me to satisfy my deepest dreams."
Varney spoke of her late husband’s never-ending generosity and humility, calling Varney her bodyguard.
Outside the celebration of life, a Tonka truck that belongs to Varney’s 3-year-old son Nolan was attached to the rig that used to carry Braden’s bulldozer. His wife said working as a heavy fire equipment operator was the job he was destined for after following in his father’s footsteps
"Not long ago I stood next to him as someone was applauding him for his firefighting service. But Braden plainly stated, 'I'm just doing my job,'" Varney said. "However, in reality, he was doing what he loved more than anything in the whole world, operating equipment, which he loved, in the mountains, where he loved, for his fellow human beings, who he loved to serve."
Jessica Varney said she saved the pants that her husband last wore and is thankful she saved his last moments with Nolan and 5-year-old Maleah before he left to battle the Ferguson Fire.
"I happened to grab my camcorder that evening before he passed and right before he was dispatched out," she said. "And I was able to capture, for that one last time, unbeknownst to me, he and the kids outside in our driveway where the bulldozer and transport were parked almost ready for his last call."
Braden Varney’s life ended doing the thing he loved the most -- helping save others. His life was summed up best in a biblical quote that graced the celebration of life program: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for friends."
They call it a brotherhood, a bond molded by fire. As the procession carrying Braden Varney's body made its way to House Modesto that bond was as strong as ever.
"It’s an honor to have members from the other departments, people that have known him, people that don’t know him that are just here to pay their respects. It’s greatly appreciated," said Cal Fire engineer Mark Bruns.
After Braden Varney’s family made their way into the church, they joined friends in taking to the podium to remember a man they say was extremely humble and generous. Varney’s chief recalled her dismay when she found out he was gone.
"There are no words to describe that feeling, so I know there are no words I can offer you in solace. Losing Braden is a gut punch like no other," said Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced Chief Nancy Koerperich. "It hurts to your very soul. We not only lost a firefighter, we lost a brother and a friend."
Koerperich detailed the excursion to get Varney's body so he could come home.
"Over the loudspeaker, 'Amazing Grace' played by bagpipes echoed through the canyon as the soundtrack to the mission at hand. The crews and fire captains fought the steep terrain and lovingly passed Braden, hand over hand, from his resting spot to bring him out of the ravine," Koerperich said. "Firefighters knew what was at stake. They knew it was dangerous, the fire was coming. But that’s what firefighters do."
As bulldozers lined the street in front of the church in honor of his excellence as a heavy fire equipment operator, the brotherhood vowed to never let his legacy extinguish.
"As a firefighter, we don’t think that the last time we put on our boots is going to be the last time we put on our boots. Braden didn't go to work that day thinking that. But knowing that a tribute like this still happens and that we have this brotherhood in fire services is humbling and I'm honored to be here," said Jordan Motta with Cal Fire.
Jessica Varney asked for prayers for the family during this time and had people who attended today fill out a card so that she and their two young children can read about how their husband and father impacted so many lives in his 36 years.