Thousands of firefighters are gathered in Prescott, Ariz., today, to honor the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the 19 firefighters who were killed by a wildfire on Sunday, June 30. The speakers include Gov. Jan Brewer and Vice President Joe Biden.
"These men were some of the strongest, most disciplined" people in the world, Biden said, calling them "an elite unit, in every sense of that phrase."
"I know them," Biden said several times, citing the passion and tenacity of the firefighters. Referencing the personal tragedy that has struck his own life, he then added, "I know them because they saved the lives of my two sons."
The vice president was citing the events of 1972, when his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in Delaware.
He went on to say that he understood the grief felt by the loved ones of those who died in the Yarnell Hill fire. And he said the firefighters will be remembered with respect and affection for the lives they led and for the jobs they did in protecting their community.
"All men are created equal," Biden said. "But then, a few became firefighters."
After Biden spoke, Prescott Fire Department Engineer Dan Bates delivered a eulogy for the firefighters, beginning his address by praising Brendan McDonough, the lone surviving member of the Granite Mountain group, who Bates says will continue to work on wildfires to honor his fallen colleagues.
Speaking from behind a lectern bearing the seal of the vice president, Bates reeled off the accomplishments of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, saying they were responsible for protecting more than 8,400 homes and 1,600 acres of public land in and around Prescott.
The fallen firefighters also performed outreach efforts in schools, trained other firefighters — and even removed snow in the winter, Bates said.
"Anything Prescott needed, anything Arizona and this nation needed, these Hotshots stepped up and filled the void," he said.
Arrayed in front of Bates were photos of the fallen men, along with ceremonial representations of their gear: coats and shovels, boots and helmets.
Here are the names of the 19 firefighters killed on June 30:
- Andrew Ashcraft, 29
- Robert Caldwell, 23
- Travis Carter, 31
- Dustin Deford, 24
- Christopher MacKenzie, 30
- Eric Marsh, 43
- Grant McKee, 21
- Sean Misner, 26
- Scott Norris, 28
- Wade Parker, 22
- John Percin, 24
- Anthony Rose, 23
- Jesse Steed, 36
- Joe Thurston, 32
- Travis Turbyfill, 27
- William Warneke, 25
- Clayton Whitted, 28
- Kevin Woyjeck, 21
- Garret Zuppiger, 27