Firefighter Matthew King honored for courage, devotion, compassion and bad jokes - Albuquerque Journal

Firefighter Matthew King honored for courage, devotion, compassion and bad jokes

Bernalillo County Fire Deputy Chief Robert Rose presents firefighter Lt. Matthew King’s family with a King’s posthumous medal of honor during a his funeral on Aug. 1, 2022, at Tingley Coliseum after he was killed in a helicopter crash. From left to right, they are King’s son, Aedden, King’s daughter, Kyra, and his wife, Audrey. (Liam DeBonis/Journal)

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Fire control to Metro 2.

Fire control to Metro 2.

Fire control to Lt. Matthew King.

No response.

Lt. Matthew A. King, this is your final dispatch.

During funeral services Monday in Tingley Coliseum at Expo New Mexico, Matthew King was remembered as a friend; a loving husband and father; an inspirational teacher and leader; a compassionate paramedic who’d hold a patient’s hand all the way to a hospital emergency room; a charismatic personality who loved to tell jokes, often bad ones; a courageous public servant; a moral compass; and one of the most genuine people on Earth.

The words of those who spoke during his services, left no doubt he was all those things.

But there was also no doubt this was a fireman’s funeral.

Uniformed firefighters and their family members filled one entire section of the folding chairs set out on Tingley’s floor.

Firefighters salute a procession carrying the remains of Lt. Matthew King to his funeral on Aug. 1, 2022, at Tingley Coliseum after he was killed in a helicopter crash. (Liam DeBonis/Journal)

A final alarm was sounded on a bell in tribute to King near the end of services, and the recorded final dispatch, perhaps the most moving part of the funeral, was played at its conclusion.

“At the end of the day, what rings true is Matt’s passion for education and for service,” said Bernalillo County Fire Chief Greg Perez.

King, 44, a rescue specialist with the Bernalillo County Fire Department, was one of four men killed when Metro 2, a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, crashed south of Las Vegas, New Mexico, on July 16. Survivors include his wife, Audrey; son Aedden, 20; and daughter, Kyra, 17.

King and the others killed in the crash – Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers III and Deputy Michael Levison, all with BCSO – had been making water drops from the helicopter to help fight a fire in northern New Mexico prior to the crash, which happened during the flight back to Albuquerque.

King survived the initial crash, called 911 and was on line 30 minutes trying to direct first responders to the site.

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez represents District 3, which covers northern New Mexico, an area plagued by persistent and destructive fires in recent months.

During Monday’s services, she thanked all firefighters, but expressed grief and admiration for the four men who died after battling a blaze in her district.

“Service is fundamentally an act of love,” she said. “I am devastated by the loss of these men but inspired by their sense of purpose.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised King and the men who died with him for their courage and devotion.

“They always answered the call,” she said. “They do what they do.”

King grew up in Albuquerque and was a graduate of Eldorado High School. He started his firefighting career in 2000 as a volunteer with the Corrales Fire Department. He worked with Albuquerque Ambulance Service from 2002 to 2009 and also worked at times for the Los Ranchos Fire Department, the Sandoval County Fire Department and Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue.

He started with the Bernalillo County Fire Department in August 2011 and was promoted to lieutenant in January 2020. In addition to his duties as a rescue specialist, King was an emergency medical services educator and served in the training division.

Joshua Ellis, a division chief with the Bernalillo County Fire Department, said King had a unique approach to training, especially when trainees messed up.

“He wouldn’t yell at them or make them do pushups,” Ellis said. “Instead, he was the disappointed dad, which is often more effective.”

He told of the time he and King met a homeless woman who was trying to catch a bus to a shelter on Albuquerque’s West Side.

“Matt was afraid she would not get to the bus stop in time, so he put her in his car and drove her to the shelter,” Ellis said.

Damian Vandevender, retired senior master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force and a friend of King’s dating back to their young days in Albuquerque, admitted he would not be as “tough” as others who spoke at the services. He wrestled with his emotions as he talked about his “first best friend.”

“When Matt decided he was going to brighten your day, you could see the determination in his face,” Vandevender said. He said King was known to go to a hospital when he got off duty to check on patients he had helped earlier because he not only was devoted to his job but also cared about the people he served.

“Most people may have wondered if they should have lived their lives differently,” Vandevender said. “Matt did not have that problem.”

Lieutenant, you are relieved from duty.

We have the watch and will take it from here.

Rest in peace.

Editor’s note: This post was updated to correct a cutline. 

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