Hotshots cemetery memorial construction is underway
PRESCOTT, Arizona - It wasn't exactly a smooth process, but the design for the Granite Mountain Hotshots Burial Site has been finalized and construction is underway.
Ten of the 19 fallen Hotshots are buried next to each other at the state-owned Pioneers Home Cemetery in Prescott, and all 19 will have plots with bronze grave markers that are etched with images from family photos.
The site is covered with brick pavers and artificial turf, all surrounded by a two-foot-high staircased wall where people can sit while paying their respects.
The flags of the U.S., Arizona and the Granite Mountain Hotshots fly over the site. A granite bench and granite monument are planned for the future.
There is room for approximately 20 family members to be buried alongside their sons and husbands.
"It's full of honor," retired firefighter Danny Parker remarked while surveying the site Wednesday. He and his wife plan to be buried there next to their son Wade.
"It's respectable and dignified," long-time local funeral home director Butch Hampton added.
The cemetery was originally set aside for long-time elderly Arizona residents who lived at the Arizona Pioneers Home, but several years ago the state opened it up for others.
It's an appropriate final resting place for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, since they perished June 30, 2013, fighting a wildfire that ignited on state trust lands and were called to help a state firefighting team.
The state agreed to open up a new section of the cemetery so the hotshots could be buried together. They charged only $100 per gravesite for the Fallen 19 instead of the usual $900.
Pioneers Home Superintendent Ted Ihrman and Administrative Services Officer Dale Sams complimented the design Wednesday.
"It's a beautiful job," Ihrman said.
The two Pioneers Home officials agreed to the design Wednesday, but not before they became involved in a sometimes heated dispute with representatives of two firefighter and Hotshot family support groups, the 100 Club of Arizona and Professional Firefighters of Arizona.
The two sides also disagreed about whether the Pioneers Home was going to reserve some adjacent gravesites for more family members and fellow firefighters.
It got to the point Tuesday that Ihrman called in Prescott police and asked them to charge some of the firefighters and workers with trespassing at the cemetery. He had asked the workers to stop on Friday and Monday because they were not building according to an agreed design, and they came back again Tuesday, Sams said.
After police said it was a civil matter, both sides agreed to meet Wednesday at the cemetery and talk.
Prescott Fire Capt. JP Vicente, who also represents the 100 Club and serves as the Granite Mountain Hotshots family member services coordinator, and Ray Maione, VP of member services for the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, headed up the effort to design and build what they are calling the Granite Mountain Hotshots Burial Site.
"We had a disagreement, and at the end we agreed to do the right thing," Vicente said.
Vicente and Maione freely admitted that after Ihrman rejected their design that the Hotshots' families had agreed to, they went ahead and tried to build it anyway.
Ihrman and Sams wanted the boundary wall to be only about six inches high, and they didn't want pavers on the ground where people would be buried in the future. Otherwise, they wanted family members to be buried outside of the wall.
Sams said they were trying to think ahead to the future, when gravediggers would have to remove the walls and pavers for new burials. They feared the Hotshot families would end up having to cover the extra costs and the memorial wouldn't look the same.
"We have to think this out," Sams said.
Maione said some of the widows cried when he told them they'd have to be buried outside the wall, so they just couldn't build it that way.
Vicente and Maione assured them that the 100 Club would cover the extra burial costs with donations it received for the Hotshots' families, just like it has covered the costs of purchasing approximately 25 extra gravesites so there would be room for the memorial.
In the end, both sides agreed to just move the two-foot-high wall one foot because it was encroaching on other gravesites, so there will be room for relatives inside the wall.
With the exception of the monument, the memorial will be finished in time for the one-year anniversary of the Hotshots' death June 30.
From the gravesites Wednesday, Parker pointed to the home where he grew up and where his parents still live.
The firefighters of the future will take care of the site, too, he said.
"They don't understand," Parker said of the Pioneers Home officials. "The fire service will not forget."
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