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CAL FIRE firefighters killed in helicopter collision remembered

Assistant Chief Josh Bischof and Captain Tim Rodriguez are remembered as “the absolute best the fire service has ever had”


An investigator examines the hillside where two helicopters collided in Cabazon, Calif.

Taya Gray/The Desert Sun via AP

Duty Death: Josh Bischof, Timothy “Tim” Rodriguez, and Tony Sousa - [Sacramento]

End of Service: 06/08/2023

By Brian Rokos
The Press-Enterprise

CABAZON, Calif. — The two Cal Fire firefighters who perished in the collision of two helicopters along with the pilot over Cabazon on Sunday, Aug. 7, were remembered Monday as mentors and friends.

Riverside County Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, 46, and Capt. Tim Rodriguez, 44, were on board the Bell helicopter along with a contract pilot, Tony Sousa, 55, over the Broadway fire when it collided with a Sikorsky S-64 helicopter, better known as a “Skycrane,” which had two aboard.

The Skycrane, which drops water or retardant, landed safely.

Cal Fire and the Governor’s Office identified the firefighters and the pilot late Monday morning.

“These two men were the absolute best the fire service has ever had,” Silvio Lanzas , a former Cal Fire/Riverside County division chief and Glendale fire chief, wrote in an Instagram post. “Devoted fathers, husbands, leaders, mentors, friends, and absolute warriors on the fireground.

“Josh and I went to Air Attack school together,” Lanzas said. “We grew up with our families camping and vacationing together. An incredible human.

“TRod was a firefighter when I got qualified as an Air Attack and later would become a mentor and a dear friend to my son,” he said. “A consummate professional and as humble as they come. I saw him and referenced him in my speech at my son’s wedding just a few weeks ago.”

Lanzas said one of his sons, Isaiah, flew with both men many times out of Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base.

Bischof had recently been promoted to assistant chief and worked at the Southern Region Operations Center at March Air Reserve Base, said retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief Don Camp in an interview.

Bischof reached out to Camp when he was promoted to battalion chief and would provide constructive criticism.

“The big things that stood out about Josh were his integrity and his character,” said Camp, who described Bischof as an airplane and helicopter “guru.”

“He was unswerving,” Camp said. “Not only did he seek out opportunities to make himself better … but also to make all of us better as a team, whether it was a (new) firefighter working for him at the base or a fellow chief officer.”

The Southern California News Group has reached out to the company that provided the helicopters on contract to Cal Fire for information on the pilot.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the crash site Monday. Among other things, they will attempt to determine why the helicopters were at the same elevation.

Spotter aircraft typically fly above the aircraft they are directing to make water and fire-retardant drops. While one layer of aircraft flies clockwise, typically, the other flies counterclockwise.

Newsom said flags at the state Capitol and will be flown at half-staff in honor of the firefighters and pilot.

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