Monday, July 22, 2013

Arizona Memorial for Hot Shots

Local Red Cross volunteers, Chris Theile and Gary Bishop
The call came in on Wednesday, July 3rd to have Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) #3081 go to Prescott Arizona as part of the memorial service for the 19 Hot Shot fire fighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell fire. We were told we needed to be in Prescott by 12:00 noon on Sunday so Gary Bishop and myself left the office in Fresno on Friday, spent the night in Needles, and arrived on Saturday to help in whatever way we could.

There were 20 Red Cross ERV's from nearby states called to participate in this memorial. The Bakersfield ERV was also sent down with Ray Quintana and Jerry Chaves; whom I have had the pleasure to work with many times. Our job was to support the community and fire fighters from around the country who attended the services. We all agreed that it was a real honor to be called out for this very emotional ceremony to honor the Hot Shots. 

On Monday we had the ERV's washed, filled with fuel and loaded with supplies we would need for the event. We left headquarters in Prescott, drove to a staging area and loaded the ERV's with water and ice. Next, we drove the ERV's to the parking lot of the arena to set up the trucks and park next to the tents that would be used for the memorial service. We were told that the trucks would stay there over night for security reasons due to Vice President Biden's arrival. 
Thousands lined the streets for the parade.

During this time, there was a funeral procession through the streets of downtown. It seemed like the whole city of Prescott had turned out to pay their respects. At Red Cross headquarters some current and retired firefighters came to thank the American Red Cross for coming to help out. There were many emotional "thank you's" with lots of tears, not only from fire fighters, but Red Cross volunteers as well.

Tuesday was a very long day. We started at 6:00AM to catch shuttle buses to the event and to be ready for the people that were going to be outside watching the proceedings inside on big screens. We were stationed at the far end of the parking lot so people coming to the lot were given water as they found a place to watch the memorial.

Thousands stand outside watching the memorial.
As we were going out to our trucks the procession was coming down the streets and everybody along the way had their own way of showing their respect - either hats removed or standing at attention. In fact, all of the firefighters who could not be in the building were at attention or parade rest throughout the entire memorial. Officials estimated there were 6,000 people inside and 10,000 people outside in very hot weather. We were there to pay our respects, but also make sure that everyone stayed hydrated and did not suffer from heat-stroke.

The memorial started at 11:00 and lasted 2
1/2 hours. At each ERV location we had a tent and about 6-10 walk in volunteers all handing out water and some ice packs. We had a couple nurses carrying water through the crowd. A couple of times we would take ice packs out to women with very small children to help cool them down. By the end of the memorial, we were told that we had 10 cases of heat exhaustion of which 3 had to be evacuated out, and had it not been for our presence, the count would have been 10 times that many. Near our location people had so much water that they would turn us down, but we did a good job of keeping people hydrated in the heat and throngs of people.

On Wednesday some ERV's where assigned to attend the funerals to support the families with water, comfort or any other assistance they might need. Funerals went every day through Saturday. 

Fences lined with cards, flags, photos and letters.
On Thursday Gary and I went over to the fire station the Hot Shots were from. There was a cyclone fence around the outside that I could only say must have been a mini scene from New York after 9/11. There were flowers, cards and stuffed animals all along the fence.  T-shirts were strung up from all the fellow fire stations and fighters that came to pay their respect. 

I have seen many things in my 8 years with American Red Cross, but this was one trip I'll never forget. The outpouring of support and understanding from the
community in and around Prescott was something I may never see again but it was a very uplifting experience for me. As I said before, it was my honor and pleasure to be there.

Written by American Red Cross, volunteer:
Chris Theile - Disaster Services Leadership, Mass Care & ERV Driver 

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