7/10/2013 6:00:00 AM Yavapai College commemorates tie to Granite Mountain Hotshots
Cindy Barks/The Daily Courier Firefighters with the Apache Junction Fire Department watch a simulcast at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center of the Tuesday memorial ceremony for the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill fire.
PRESCOTT - The choice of the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center as a site for simulcast of Tuesday's Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial went deeper than merely offering an alternative venue.
It also was a spot that had figured prominently in the education of most of the fallen firefighters.
"We have a special connection (to the firefighters)," Paul Kirchgraber, director of development for the Yavapai College Foundation, told the 400 or so people who gathered at the performance hall Tuesday morning to watch the memorial that was taking place in Prescott Valley.
At some time during their young lives, 18 of the 19 fallen firefighters had attended Yavapai College, Kirchgraber said, and many of them had taken part in the college's fire-science program.
"When they officially released the names, we knew a few of our alums would be on it," Kirchgraber said of the list of those who had died on June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill fire. "But we were not prepared for the number."
With so many of the men having passed through the halls of Yavapai College, Kirchgraber said, "We knew we had to do something for the families."
Not only has Yavapai College served as the site for the simulcast and the disaster relief shelter, but the college also has established a scholarship fund for the surviving children and spouses of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots.
"We want to make sure the kids' educations are covered," Kirchgraber said.
Donations are being taken: online at http://www.yc.edu/hotshots; by calling the Yavapai College Foundation at 928-776-2025; or by mail to Yavapai College Foundation, 1100 E. Sheldon St., Prescott AZ 86301.
With an overflow crowd expected to attend the memorial at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Yavapai College officials had decided over the weekend to open its 1,050-seat performance hall for those who wanted to watch the event on the big screen.
Randy Mayes, director of the Performing Arts Center, said the plans for the simulcast came together quickly.
"We learned over the weekend that Tim's Toyota might not be enough," Mayes said. "We got started (on the plans) on Sunday night."
Starting at about 10 a.m., Tuesday, mourners began filing into the hall to watch the Arizona Channel 5 (KPHL) live broadcast of the memorial.
Among the crowd were several dozen firefighters from around the state - many of whom were in town to handle calls for the Prescott Fire Department.
With their police scanners close by, a team of three from Yuma watched the service from the lobby of the performance hall.
"We're here to support the community," said Richard Root of the Yuma Fire Department. The crew had arrived in Prescott in a Yuma fire engine, and had been stationed at the local Sixth Street fire station since Saturday.
During that time, Root and fellow Yuma firefighters Francisco Leon and Don Humphrey said the Prescott community had welcomed them with open arms, offering food, a place to stay, and other assistance.
"It's been kind of overwhelming," Root said. "The community has been very supportive of us."
The Yuma crew was just one of the Arizona communities represented. Inside the performance hall, three Apache Junction firefighters watched the emotional ceremony, which included comments from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Arizona Gov. Jan
Brewer, Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, and Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.
"Powerful, tragic," Apache Junction Fire Capt. Mike Gregorie said as he filed out of the ceremony. The three had arrived just that morning to fill in at the Prescott Fire Department's Lee Boulevard station.
Others in the audience were equally somber. Mario Mata, a 2001 graduate of Prescott High School, cradled his young son Sylas, as he watched the program from the lobby. "I knew (fallen firefighter) Scott Norris," Mata said. "I can't believe he's gone; he was such a nice guy."
Like many of the people in the audience at Yavapai College, Phoenix resident Darla Demlong did not personally know any of the fallen firefighters. She had traveled to the memorial, in part to support her boyfriend Tim Kovacs, who works for the Phoenix Fire Department.
"When Tim and I got the news it was one of the 'you know where you were' moments," Demlong said, adding that the memorial had been especially difficult because of the age of the victims. "They're so young," she said of the Granite Mountain 19.
Yuma resident Phyl Ortiz's family ties had also figured into her decision to attend the simulcast. "I have two nephews and a niece who are firefighters in Yuma," she said. "I never realized how difficult their job is. I think we take it for granted."
More information about the Granite Mountain Hotshots Scholarships Fund is available by calling Kirchgraber at 928-717-7773.
Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Article comment by:
My heart goes out to the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives fighting the wildfire. But also, to Brendan McDonough, the survivor. Let us not forget the admirable job he did. Brendan is as much a hero as his fallen brothers.