Sara Thomas, a Riverside County firefighter who lost a 13-month battle with cancer, leaving behind 7-year-old twin daughters, was remembered Tuesday as a leader who inspired and mentored colleagues in her 16 years on the force.
Thomas’ fellow firefighters, friends and family packed Southwest Church in Indian Wells to say goodbye to the Coachella Valley native, who died Jan. 31 at her Desert Hot Springs home at the age of 41.
Thomas, who was born in Indio and graduated from Palm Desert High School, primarily worked in the Coachella Valley, including her most recent posting at Fire Station 80 in North Indio.
Dan Talbot, who served as Thomas’ battalion chief while she was stationed in Indio, said she was “the leader in our firehouse” who inspired rookies and veterans alike.
She was a loving wife and mom at home, and at work was a “Mother Bear” who “both cared for and scolded her cubs when they stepped out of line,” he said.
“Sara exemplified the fact that you don’t need collar brass on this job to be a leader,” Talbot said.
As a firefighter for more than 30 years, Talbot said he’d seen days both good and bad on the job, and would consider this day a bit of both.
“This is a difficult day, but the fire service will endure. We will endure because Sara helped build a foundation upon which we can stand up,” he said through tears.
Riverside County Fire Department Chief John Hawkins called Thomas “a positive influence for everyone” and said others “admired her heart for the job and her wonderful heart for others.”
“Sara was always able to put aside her own needs for those of others,” Hawkins said.
He said firefighters are twice as likely as those in the general public to be diagnosed with cancer due to the amount of carcinogens to which they are exposed in their work.
Hawkins said firefighters throughout the county have been working to encourage their co-workers to undergo full body scans for early cancer
“Sara fought cancer. She fought it hard. Unfortunately, as is the case most of the time, cancer fights dirty and wins,” Hawkins said.
Thomas’ sister, Lupe Minjarez, said she takes some solace knowing that Thomas is now with her grandparents, but that she and her parents “are forever broken.”
“Thank you all so much for loving on her and thank you all so much for extending your love to us. It’s very heartfelt and means the world to me,” Minjarez told the mourners.
The service was followed by a private interment at Coachella Valley Cemetery.