61°F
weather icon Clear

Henderson fire, police come out in force to bid colleague farewell

Before his untimely death, Henderson firefighter paramedic Robbie James Pettingill began to envision what a successful fire mental health service program would look like.

He wrote a plan down and sent it to department leadership.

But Pettingill, whom the department has said suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in his 13-year firefighting career, didn’t get to see his plan to fruition.

Pettingill died by suicide on Sept. 17. He was 35.

“He was leading the charge to help us improve these important services,” Henderson Fire Chief Shawn White said at the memorial service Friday afternoon. “The foundation of what he started will live on.”

Pettingill was honored at Central Christian Church after a motorcade brought his ashes past Fire Station 97, where he was last assigned. A fire engine gave Pettingill’s helmet and uniform one last ride to the church before White helped bring them in for display at the lectern.

Because his death was considered a line-of-duty death, Pettingill’s service was treated as such.

The department’s honor guard presented the colors as bagpipes played from the parking lot into the church. The family received a folding of the American flag from his assigned station. The firefighters rang his last bell three times, representing the end of an emergency and the return to quarters.

At the beginning of the service, White remembered Pettingill as a determined and knowledgeable firefighter whose personality was seasoned with “comic and quick wit.”

White spoke on behalf of Pettingill’s wife, Rebeca Esparza, who he said described her husband as a romantic who always cooked for her and never left the house without leaving a handwritten note. Their first anniversary was coming up Oct. 17. And his best relationship on the planet was with their dog, Stevie.

White said Pettingill’s mom, Vicki, described her son as a strong-willed toddler who was always determined to get his way.

“His way was always a little different and quirky,” he said.

He started wearing skinny jeans and cowboy boots at 2 years old, joined a rage band at Green Valley High School and spent thousands of dollars trying to renovate 1980s-style panel vans.

White said firefighters respond to situations that are sometimes extremely stressful.

“Most of the time we show up and we make it better, and that’s why we love this job; we find such great purpose in what we do,” he said.

White called post-traumatic stress disorder a “a silent enemy … a predator who inflicts injury without leaving a visible sign.”

White encouraged people to break the stigma of behavioral health issues, provide resources and have the courage to be a voice of advocacy.

“Robbie learned the hard way about these mental health injuries. He was determined to get better. He reached out to his crew, he asked for help,” White said. “He did the hard work, and he got back to a better, functional place.”

But then, in May, his father, retired Henderson fire Capt. Scott Pettingill, also died by suicide.

The Fire Department pulled Pettingill from responding to calls and kept an eye on him, White said.

“The one thing we do know is that on the evening of September 17, 2019, at about 8:30 p.m., Robbie was screaming at the public safety industry to pay attention,” White said.

“Please, I’ll ask you to join us in listening.”

His sister, Nikki LePore, told the crowd that she was wearing the same black dress to her brother’s funeral that he had helped her pick out for their father’s funeral only months earlier.

They were five years apart, but she said she had prayed every night for a baby brother. She used her allowance money to buy him Hot Wheels and G.I. Joe toys. When he was younger, she would push bullies into chain-link fences for him. They’d gotten their first tattoos together.

He could pitch a baseball left- and right-handed and was a vegan, a cowboy. A “karaoke-singing fool” who would often dedicate Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.” He frequently quoted Adam Sandler comedies.

“He was the fun uncle who always brought my boys way too much candy and really cool shoes,” she said. “He was my favorite person in the world, and he’s gone.”

She shed light on some of the demons her brother wrestled with: the calls of kids he couldn’t save, the wives’ hands he held as their husbands of 60 years took their final breath.

“Scenes that his tender heart shouldn’t have seen; he walked in some very dark valleys,” LePore said.

“We have to stop telling people who are in dark valleys to reach out; we have to start reaching in … I know Robbie’s at peace, and his pain is no more. There is no more darkness for him.”

Capt. Nicolas Sebastian knew Pettingill when he was hired by the department in August 2006. While working alongside Sebastian at Station 83, Pettingill loved to make elaborate meals during their long shifts and would often wake a groggy crew by blasting Spanish MTV to make sure they would share a meal together.

He never backed down from a food challenge, whether it was day-old french fries or a week-old Hot Pocket.

Sebastian said that alhough his co-worker was a capable firefighter on the scene, he struggled with alcoholism and two failed marriages. But after he sought help and met his current wife, Rebeca, he was “living with a purpose that I had never seen before,” Sebastian said.

“But, Robbie was quietly struggling, and it became apparent thiat his father’s struggles were similar, and they began to run parallel together.”

After his dad’s death, he wrote a poem to his wife, which his friend Raina read aloud Friday.

“Even though I feel lost and every emotion in between,” the poem began.

“My rock and my soul mate, my hope and my heart, thank you for everything you’ve done during this part. I know it’s not easy, but we will get through. I know my dad’s smiling knowing I’m here with you.”

At the end of the service, a slide show of photos and videos played. One video showed Pettingill the day he eloped with his wife in a Las Vegas chapel, a photo showed him playing with his nephews, and another photo showed him making goofy faces with his friends.

One last video played of the young firefighter in a suit.

“When you feel like you’re not OK, just know there are people out there that love you,” Pettingill said in the video. “There are always options, even in your darkest days, because I’ve been there myself. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
Mom launches school lunch petition
Lacey Steinmetz, the mother of a Clark County elementary student, doesn’t think students have enough time to eat lunch. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Completion of pedestrian bridge delayed on Las Vegas Strip
The latest pedestrian bridge being built over the Las Vegas Strip, between Park MGM and Showcase Mall, has had it completion date pushed to November. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeopardy! James competes with G2E attendees
Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer, appears at the G2E IGT booth to help celebrate launch of Jeopardy! slot machines and compete against attendees in mock games of Jeopardy!
Security guard killed in Las Vegas shooting honored
ERICK SILVA WAS KILLED PROTECTING OTHER DURING THE MASS SHOOTING AT THE ROUTE 91 FESTIVAL. HE IS BEING REMEMBERED TODAY AND A PLAGUE WAS PRESENTED IN HIS HONOR AT THE EAST COMMUNITY CENTER
Lucky's unexpected surprise
The Ball family, who already deals with challenges most families don’t, got an unexpected surprise from a security systems worker, who brought more than just peace of mind, he brought love to one lucky little boy.
Gilcrease pumpkin patch is open - VIDEO
Gilcrease Orchard's pumpkin patch is now open for the season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas firefighters battle a fire in a commercial area - VIDEO
Clark County and Las Vegas firefighters battle a fire in a commercial area at 824 E. Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Time lapse of RiSE Las Vegas festival - VIDEO
This is a time-lapse video during the sixth annual RiSE Las Vegas festival at the Jean dry lake bed on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lanterns released into Nevada desert as part of RiSE Festival - VIDEO
Thousands of spectators released giant lanterns into the sky at a dry lake bed near Jean, Nev., Sunday night as part of the RiSE festival. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Halloween Parade at Downtown Summerlin - VIDEO
Halloween festivities are in full swing at Downtown Summerlin with the first week of the month-long parade. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Funeral procession for Robbie James Pettingill - VIDEO
A motorcade of Henderson fire and police personnel escort the body of firefighter Robbie James Pettingill past Fire Station 82 and Fire Station 97, where he was last assigned, to Central Christian Church on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Failure not an option for Mayor Carolyn Goodman facing breast cancer - VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her oncologist talk about Goodman's second bout with breast cancer. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hacienda bridge closures for events at Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
The bridge at Hacienda Avenue over Interstate 15 will be closed during major events at Allegiant Stadium. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Backyard Adventures at the Springs Preserve - VIDEO
"Backyard Adventures" is the latest temporary exhibit at the Springs Preserve. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of teens who were killed in California crash visited the crash site - VIDEO
Parents of Las Vegas teens who were killed in a fiery crash last year in Huntington Beach, Calif., visited the crash site on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutefsya
Bani Duarte convicted in California crash that killed 3 Las Vegas teens - VIDEO
Bani Duarte, the drunken driver who caused a fiery crash in Huntington Beach, California, last year that killed three Las Vegas teens, was convicted of second-degree murder on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wrap-up of Oct. 1 observances - VIDEO
A wrap-up of memorials and observances on the second anniversary of the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, Oct. 1, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Victims of Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas remembered - VIDEO
Remembrance video honors the 58 people who were killed at the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017, on the Las Vegas Strip. (Clark County)
UNLV music program rings bell 58 times to remember victims of Oct. 1 shooting - Video
UNLV music students will ring a set of chimes 58 times in honor of the victims of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Memorial bench unveiled at North Las Vegas park to honor Route 91 victims and survivors - VIDEO
The family of Route 91 victim Neysa Tonks worked with the city of North Las Vegas to erect a memorial bench overlooking a pond at Craig Ranch Regional Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Robbins Speak at Oct. 1 Remembrance Ceremony - Video
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Robbins speak to the crowd at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater to remember the victims of the 1 Oct. shooting that occurred in 2017 at the Route 91 festival. (Michael Quine and Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Day 6 of Bani Duarte trial in California
Police say Bani Duarte, 29, was drunk when she drove into a car carrying four Las Vegas teens, killing three, in Huntington Beach, California on March 29, 2018. She is being tried on murder charges in Santa Ana. (Renee Summeropur/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Troy and Shannon Zeeman talk about life after Oct 1 shooting - VIDEO
Troy and Shannon Zeeman of Garden Grove, California, discuss life after Oct 1 shooting in Las Vegas. The couple started Security Consultant Zeeman, dedicated to active shooter preparedness training. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reflecting on Oct. 1: How Metro officers saved a life
Oct. 1 was the second day on the job for Officer Brandon Engstrom who saved a critically injured woman amid the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Healing Garden remains a gathering place
It's been two years since the mass shooting of Oct. 1, and the Healing Garden has grown and evolved. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash - VIDEO
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash at the intersection of West Sahara Avenue and Steve Rigazio Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Reflecting on Oct. 1: How one officer saved a life
Oct. 1 was the second day on the job for Officer Brandon Engstrom who saved a critically injured woman amid the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
76 animals confiscated from North Las Vegas home - VIDEO
Service dogs, birds, a pig and other animals were confiscated from the North Las Vegas home of an animal activist and former actress. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mother, child and 41 dogs rescued after North Las Vegas house fire - VIDEO
North Las Vegas PIO Patrick Walker talks about a house fire in North Las Vegas where a mother, her child and 41 dogs were rescued on Sept. 24, 2019. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Miracle Flights greets patient ambassador Michael Perrino in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The Miracle Flights team welcomes 16-year-old Michael Perrino and his family to Las Vegas for their annual Swings for Wings fundraiser at TopGolf. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cat survives 15-mile commute in car bumper
A Las Vegas Review-Journal employee was surprised to learn she had a passenger during her 15.5-mile commute to the office on a September Sunday. (Tony Morales & James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Shortages of OB-GYN doctors in the Las Vegas Valley - Video
Dr. Michael Gardner discusses the shortages of OB-GYN doctors that will happen and what steps are being taken to entice them to come or stay in the Las Vegas area.
Southern Nevada is in a West Nile virus hot zone - VIDEO
Southern Nevada, along with Central Arizona and Southern California, make up a “hot zone” that is reporting the highest number of mosquito-borne West Nile virus cases in the country. The Southern Nevada Health District recently reported 28 cases of West Nile virus in Clark County. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Browning Released from Ely State Prison - VIDEO
Paul Browning greets his mother, Betty Browning, after being released from Ely State Prison. Browning served 33 years on Nevada’s death row. (Rachel Crosby/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mother upset over her child's cornea donation being sent overseas - Video
Lindsey LiCari, the mother of Ayden and founder of Ayden's Army of Angels, is upset that her child's corneas were sent overseas and was told that she would be able to see her son's eyes again. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Aviators splash pad lets fans stay cool
Las Vegas Ballpark’s splash pad area is the perfect place to keep cool while enjoying the game. (Cassie Soto/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
BLM whistleblower regains job in Nevada after firing

Craig Hoover, a rangeland specialist with the federal agency, said he was terminated after reporting illegal livestock grazing in eastern Nevada.