The T-shirts from fire departments around the country are a potent reminder of the outpouring of grief that came after 19 of Prescott’s Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire nearly five years ago.
San Bernardino, Kalispell, Las Cruces, Rio Rico, Laguna Beach – the names of the departments that placed T-shirts on the tribute fence at Prescott’s Station 7 in the days after the June 2013 tragedy go on and on.
A sampling of those T-shirts now lines the back wall of a Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew (GMIHC) Learning and Tribute Center that is under development at the Prescott Gateway Mall.
The display is a culmination of thousands of volunteer hours that already have gone into preserving and displaying the community’s emotional response to the Hotshot tragedy.
Now, the new tribute-center group is hoping volunteers will step in again.
A meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, May 14, at Fire Station 71, 333 White Spar Road, will inform the public of the center’s progress so far. It also will seek volunteers to help with the continued set-up work, the staffing of the center, fundraising, and publicity.
Organizers are encouraging the public to attend the meeting.
JUNE 29 OPENING
For months, plans have been underway for a center that would remember the fallen Hotshots and would also serve as a spot for education about wildland firefighting.
Karen Norris, the mother of fallen Hotshot Scott Norris, said efforts for a non-profit organization – the GMIHC Learning and Tribute Center – gained momentum after an August 2017 meeting that was facilitated by Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light.
Through the continued work of a nine-member board of directors and a group of dedicated volunteers, the center currently is taking shape in a space near the mall’s Dillard’s store.
Norris, who serves on the Hotshot Learning and Tribute Board of Directors, said the center is scheduled to open to the public at noon, Friday, June 29 – a day before the five-year mark of the Hotshot tragedy.
Already, more than 450 fire-department T-shirts have been displayed on the center’s back wall, and more will be added in the coming weeks.
And spread throughout the space are chain-link-fence displays that are replicas of the tribute fence at Station 7, the Sixth Street home of the Hotshots. Each of the 19 fallen crew members is commemorated on one side of the triangular displays.
The T-shirts, along with thousands of other items – flags, photos, notes, flowers, and stuffed animals – were removed from the original tribute fence and painstakingly cataloged and preserved in the weeks after the Hotshot tragedy by the volunteer Tribute Fence Preservation Project. (Photos and information on the items are available through an online virtual museum at: www.prescottlibrary.info/tfpp).
Since then, the items were stored in a city building on McCormick Street. This past March, the items were moved to the mall space. The project is now at the point where more help is needed, organizers say.
“We especially need volunteers to staff the center after it opens, and someone who will take on the task of volunteer coordinator,” Norris said.
She and her husband Jim Norris met with volunteer Dennis Bueschel at the center this past week to discuss progress and plans.
“We’re not quite half-way done,” Bueschel, a retired firefighter from Southern California, said of the set-up for the new center.
Bueschel, who volunteered early on to watch over the items, said his motivation was to “take pressure off the (Prescott) Fire Department” after the tragedy.
LONG-TERM TEMPORARY SITE
Norris and Bueschel emphasize that while the mall is expected to serve as the center’s home for three to five years, the organization hopes to ultimately find a more permanent location.
“Our vision is big,” Norris said, adding that the group is looking for a stand-alone building on a good amount of property. Ultimately, the group hopes to have space to display the Hotshot transport buggy that currently is being stored in Phoenix, but is available to be moved back to Prescott when a suitable location is found.
The Norrises and Bueschel say that while efforts are underway for finding such a site, nothing is definite at this point.
Meanwhile, the mall site has been generating plenty of interest as volunteers have continued their efforts. “A lot of people have been asking about it,” Bueschel said.
While the center will be run by the non-profit group, Prescott Community Outreach Manager John Heiney said the City of Prescott is on the lease for the space for at least the first year, and the city will pay for utilities. Mall owners are providing the space for a nominal amount, Heiney said.