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Calif. ‘rising star’ firefighter drowns in ocean waters off San Diego

Oakland Firefighter Caeden Laffan, 25, was in the area for the California Firefighter Summer Games

Caeden Laffan

Photo via Alameda County District Attorney’s Office

By Rick Hurd, Harry Harris
Bay Area News Group

SAN DIEGO — An Oakland firefighter whose chief called him a “rising star” in the department drowned in the ocean waters off San Diego, authorities said, the second tragedy to hit his family in 3½ years.

Authorities confirmed firefighter Caeden Laffan, 25, died early Thursday while in Southern California for the California Firefighter Summer Games. He graduated from the Oakland Fire Department’s academy in 2019, according to a statement from the agency Thursday.

Oakland Fire Chief Damon Covington at a news conference Thursday said Laffan was at a San Diego beach with other people, but it was unknown if the others were also firefighters. San Diego fire officials notified their counterparts in Oakland after the incident.

Laffan’s mother traveled to San Diego after the death was reported.

Authorities did not release details about the circumstances of the drowning.

“He was out having a nice time, and tragedy struck,” Covington said. He added about the department: “We’re all devastated. There’s no other way to put it.”

The young firefighter’s father, Oakland Fire Department Assistant Chief Sean Laffan, was 42 when he died after suffering a heart attack in the line of duty in November 2020.

Covington said Laffan was a third generation firefighter, following his maternal grandfather and his father. His brother, Cooper, is currently in the department’s fire academy and is scheduled to graduate on Aug. 2 . Laffan’s mother, Sabrina, is a volunteer peer-and-grief support counselor in the same department.

“He was very anxious to learn about every aspect of the fire department to becoming the best firefighter he could be,” Covington said. “He always had a smile and was very energetic.”

Laffan worked out of Station 3 in the 1400 block of 14th Street in West Oakland, a few blocks from a three-alarm warehouse fire that ripped through the building late Wednesday. Covington said some of the firefighters at that scene had to stay with the fire battle after hearing the news about Laffan.

“This is bigger than most of us can handle. We’re using peer support professionals,” Covington said. He later added: “People think firefighters are superheroes, but we are just regular people.”

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