After 28 years of work and fundraising to make it a reality, the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial will be dedicated this Saturday at the state Capitol. It pays tribute to the 104 firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty.
Their names are engraved at the 50-by-70 foot circular memorial, which features a bronze statue in the center with four firefighters, each representing the different kinds of work fire crews do. Two are holding fire hoses, another equipment, while the fourth is treating a wounded child. Flowing underneath the statue is a fountain.
Retired Little Rock Firefighter Johnny Reep, chairman of the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial group, said incorporating a fountain is symbolic.
“Of course firefighting uses lots of water, so it’s a natural blend having the nozzles flow and the fountain has a soothing sound. So the architect saw that drawing and he says 'I’m going to make this a fountain,' so it was so easy to make that decision,” Reep said.
Relatives of many of the firefighters who have lost their lives over the years are expected at Saturday’s dedication.
“We hope to have a big day where the families will be seated on the amphitheater and it will be a way to say to the families, the people of Arkansas have not forgotten the sacrifice of your family member. This memorial is for their memory,” Reep said.
“If we didn’t engrave their names, their names will be forgotten in five, 10, or maybe 20 years. So this is about an eternal appreciation for their service and sacrifice.”
Michael Barron of Mena recently visited the memorial to get a first look at it and find the name of a former comrade. Paul Keener died while fighting a wildfire on April 24, 1984.
“I got acquainted with him a couple of weeks before that happened," Barron said. "Great guy, didn’t know him very well, know his family more now, but he worked for the U.S. Forestry Service. He and another guy, James Frizzell, he’s somewhere on this, they were running the dozer and they were overrun by fire. It just happened. Everybody thought they were going to go back to the house and have supper that night and he and the other guy didn’t. They were in their 30s."
The memorial will also serve as a place for children to learn about fire safety.
Tyler Champion is a third grader at Westwood Elementary School in the west Arkansas town of Greenwood. He said he wants to eventually become a firefighter himself and is already sharing tips on how to prevent fires.
“One, never start a fire, never play with matches, never play with lighters. This is including parents and kids. And please do not smoke, be smoke-free. And please do not start a fire when it is very windy and it’s on just grass. Don’t do that in the woods because it can start a wildfire,” Champion said. “I want to save people from fires.”
While fire engines are an iconic image when people think of firefighters, Reep said they decided not to include one in the memorial.
“The fire truck is a component, but the people are the heart and soul of firefighting,” Reep said.
“If that captain doesn’t say, ‘Let’s go in there and make a search, make sure no one’s in there,’ (it) doesn’t matter if you’ve got a half-a-million dollar fire truck out there, it’s the people who care about the other people who are in danger. That’s the element that we bring. Firefighters treat every man and woman like a king or a queen, a homeless person doesn’t have to fear, they’ll be coming in there.”
Reep said the Arkansas firefighters whose names are included in the memorial died doing what they loved. But their names and sacrifices will be forever honored at the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial.