Have you ever felt like you “knew” someone and could feel their joy and sorrow without ever knowing them? This is the way I felt when I heard the news on June 30 and then saw the televised memorial service for the 19 Prescott Granite Mountain “Hotshot” firefighters who lost their lives “32 miles Southwest of Prescott, Ariz.”
I can almost see them wearing their heavy firefighter equipment as I saw their photos displayed surrounded by American flags as thousands attended the service at Tim Toyota Center this week.
A bell tolled as each name was mentioned and I could feel the grief that is felt at the death of a loved one.
Why? How could this firefighting crew that was so highly trained die?
The newspaper says that a meteorologist reported that thunderstorms and dangerous winds were heading toward them and alerted the dispatch center, but it’s unclear whether firefighters received the message. Authorities confirm they deployed their individual shelters and to my understanding, this is like a fireproof body cover that is used as a last resort that can protect them against death, but only if they are rescued within a certain amount of time. Still, they died. And the country came together to mourn.
Each firefighter had something special as stated on the internet…
Andrew Ashcraft, 29, was a great dad to four children and he texted his wife Juliann at 3:19 p.m. “I would love some rain over here.”
Robert Caldwell, 23, was a crew leader, outdoorsman, labeled “Gentle giant” and was to be married in November.
Robert and Grant McKee, 21, were cousins. Grant recently became engaged.
Travis Carter, 31, was the strongest man on the crew; he was a relentless worker. “No one could beat him; yet he was humble.”
Dustin Ford, 24, loved God and firefighting as his passions; his pastor dad volunteered for local fire department. Dustin was fifth of 10 children and in hours of danger, he would talk to the crew about God. Four of his brothers are also firefighters.
Christopher Mackenzie, 30, followed his father’s footsteps and became a firefighter; graduated in 2001 and loved snowboarding.
Eric Marsh 43, was the superintendent of the Hotshot crew; was the oldest in the crew and was “the best at what he did.”
Sean Misne, 26, was the grandson of a former fire chief. He loved football and was a team player. Seans’ wife is seven months pregnant.
Scott Norris, 28, was unmarried and the newest member of the crew kidding the longest he had been without a bath and living in tents was 14 days!
Wade Scott Parker, 22, liked “worship music” and a poem that he composed was read to the standing room audience.
John Percin, 24, graduated in 2007 (like Lorene Tonia, our daughter) he was a multi sport athlete (loved baseball) and had an ‘unforgettable laugh.”
Anthony Rose, 23, and his fiancée were expecting their first baby.
Jesse Steed, 36, a former Marine saw firefighter as a way to serve his community; he and his wife (a stay-at-home mom) have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.
Joe Thurston, 32, was a “daredevil “jumping off a 40-foot cliff and doing a front flip into the water below! He love being active and outdoors.
Travis Turbyfill, 27, nicknamed “Turby” a former Marine would train in the morning and then return in the afternoon with his wife and their two reddish-blonde curly hair little girls who loved their daddy! He wrote “I have decided to live forever or die in the attempt” on his yearbook photo.
William Warneke, 25, a former Marine loved nature. He and his wife are expecting their first baby in December.
Clayton Whitted, 28, had a lot of photos of their wedding and wrote “Newlyweds for 870 days.”
Kevin Woyjeck, 21, followed in his father’s footsteps who was a fire captain.
Garret Zuppiger, 27, loved being funny; he built his own skateboard and loved to drink coffee.
But the saddest was when Brandon McDonough, the 20th firefighter and only survivor received a standing ovation.
I could feel his grief as he recited “The Hotshot Firefighter’s Prayer,” thanked everyone for supporting him and ended his short speech with “I miss my brothers.”
Indeed, their brotherhood was like their second family to each of them. And thousands came together to mourn this tragic loss and yet to celebrate their life as they died in a profession that they were trained to do to save lives and property.
It was an honor to see Vice President Joe Biden, Prescott’s Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, the Arizona Governor and so many firefighters in uniform. The Honor Guard presented the IAFF Medal of Honor to the 19 families for their loved ones’ dedication, honor and sacrifice.
As “Taps” was played, the camera focused on their photos and a statue of a firefighter surrounded with yellow roses and their firefighter boots held up their black helmets with their pickaxes and their firefighter’s uniform. (This memory will stay with me for a long time.)
Do you feel like you knew them or they could have been our sons or our neighbors reading the above? I do.
Please continue to pray for them and their families.