Hotshot family members strategize to save buggies, Station 7

MEMORIES VS. MONEY

Claire Caldwell and Amanda Misner embrace outside one of the Hotshots’ buggies after Granite Mountain Hotshot family members, community members and fellow firefighters met to discuss their options regarding the crew buggies and Station 7 on Saturday, Feb. 25 in Prescott.

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Claire Caldwell and Amanda Misner embrace outside one of the Hotshots’ buggies after Granite Mountain Hotshot family members, community members and fellow firefighters met to discuss their options regarding the crew buggies and Station 7 on Saturday, Feb. 25 in Prescott.

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Granite Mountain Hotshot family members, community members and fellow firefighters gather to discuss their options regarding the crew buggies and station 7 Saturday, February 25 in Prescott.

The possibility that the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ former home could one day end up as a convenience store or other business is adding urgency to efforts to save the Sixth Street building.

About two dozen Hotshot family members and interested residents met Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Prescott Fire Department’s Station 7, the building that once housed the Hotshots.

Their worry: That the City of Prescott will sell the building – and the crew buggies that transported the Hotshots, 19 of whom died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013 – in its ongoing efforts to pay down the more than $78 million shortfall in the public-safety pension system (PSPRS).

With its industrial-light zoning, the 1.3-acre Station 7 parcel potentially could be used for a variety of business purposes.

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Crew father's Joe Woyjeck and Dave Turbyfill discuss the buggies after Granite Mountain Hotshot family members, community members and fellow firefighters met to discuss their options regarding the crew buggies and station 7 Saturday, February 25 in Prescott.

“We’ve been looking at (the Station 7 parcel), and knew something was going to happen,” Tom Haney, president of the United Yavapai Firefighters, told the group on Saturday, adding, “We can save this place and keep it from being another Wal-Mart.”

Advocates of preserving the building maintain that Station 7 has an emotional and historic value. “The building isn’t that valuable; the emotional aspect is,” Haney said.

Local resident Debbie Stewart added that the property includes the fence on which grieving relatives, firefighters, and residents placed thousands of items to memorialize the Hotshots in the weeks after the tragedy. “It’s a sacred place, as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

In early February, the City Council considered a list of surplus properties that could potentially be sold to generate revenue, and Station 7 parcel was first on a list. At that meeting, Hotshot family members asked the council for time to come up with a plan to save the station, and the council agreed.

“This is about options,” Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light said at Saturday’s meeting. “And I will tell you, there is a time element to this. On the buggies, a (city) decision could come in weeks.”

The deadline for a decision on the Station 7 property is also approaching – likely by May 1, Light said.

The group appeared to reach consensus on two possible means of preservation:

• United Fire Fighters Association would lead the drive to buy the building for use as a firefighting training site.

• The County of Los Angeles Fire Museum would acquire the buggies, with one of the vehicles housed in L.A., and the other available for an Arizona museum.

Joe Woyjeck, father of fallen Hotshot Kevin Woyjeck, told the group that while Kevin was growing up, he spent many hours volunteering at the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum.

“I would like to present the option of the buggies coming to our facility,” said Woyjeck, a captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and 36-year firefighting veteran. “We’re well-funded, and we have the right place.”

Light said the city currently has “no functional needs for (the buggies) in the foreseeable future.” He had earlier estimated the value of the vehicles at $6,000 each, but on Saturday he said further research had put the value at $15,000 to $20,000 each.

While Haney said the United Yavapai Fire Fighters organization is prepared to acquire the building, he stressed that organization wants to use the building for firefighting training, not as a museum. “We want to bring life to this building,” he said.

While a number of those in attendance appeared to support the two proposals, Amanda Marsh, the widow of fallen Hotshot Superintendent Eric Marsh, said she still held out hope that the building could be used as a museum at some point, and that one of the buggies could be located there.

Others questioned, however, whether the group would have enough time to raise money and plan for a museum.

Ben Roche, secretary/treasurer of the United Yavapai Fire Fighters, said the organization would work with the families to preserve the legacy of the Hotshots.

And Woyjeck said the Los Angeles County Museum would have space to display one vehicle, and the other could be loaned out to another museum.

Since Feb. 7, much of the City Council discussion about the property has occurred in closed door executive session, but City Manager Michael Lamar said this past week that he expects the matter to be discussed in public again soon.

The city reportedly has yet to conduct an appraisal on the property, and Light said the value could be anywhere from $400,000 to $600,000.