Fallen firefighters remembered at national fire center ceremony in Idaho

Thursday, November 16th 2006, 5:23 am
By: News On 6

BOISE, Idaho (AP) When Bodie Shaw visited the World War II memorials and Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., he viewed them with a mixture of respect, and a level of detachment.

But when Shaw heard about the memorial for wildland firefighters, it was different. Shaw worked on a first-response fire crew for six years, and has friends killed in the line of duty who have been honored at the memorial.

"Here I felt a connection, because I'd done this. I knew what they'd been through,'' said Shaw, a Bureau of Indian Affairs fire manager and a member of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which created the memorial.

Shaw was one of dozens who gathered at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Wednesday to honor firefighters past and present, during a ceremony for five men and women killed while battling wildfires.

James Rangell, Michelle Fay Smith, Richard Rosvall, Larry Hoffman and Frank Funston were honored. Over the last decade, an average of 18 wildland firefighters were killed annually, according to the fire agency.

The monument, constructed in 2000, was built to honor those who fight fires that consume millions of acres every year. Of the 160 memorial stones placed on the ground next to the walkways around the monument, 112 are in memory of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

"The memorial stands witness and as a place to honor all firefighters,'' said Tim Murphy, deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management's Office of Fire and Aviation. "We must never forget those who have suffered and have lost their lives.''

The memorial is planted to represent landscapes where wildland firefighters do their work. Sagebrush represents the western deserts; pinion pines represent the woods and forests.

People leave firefighter hats and toy models of fire trucks and helicopters on the memorial stones. On one of the rocks, someone had placed a burnt fireman's glove. On another lay sticks and pieces of rock that had been scorched in the same fire that claimed those firefighter's lives.

The memorial provides respite from the hectic scene of a wildfire, especially after a team member is killed, said Vicki Minor, executive director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which provides assistance to families of firefighters who were killed on the job.

"The fire never lets you stop and grieve. During fire season, firefighters have to crawl into their tents and weep,'' Minor said. "This is a place for them to come and grieve and breathe and remember.''