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Granite Mountain Hotshots honored with Firefighter of the Year Award; Yarnell gets huge cache of firefighting equipment

Presenting the Granite Mountain Hotshots' Firefighter of the Year Award to PFD Chief Dan Fraijo is Daniel Matlick, president of United Fire Equipment Co. in Tucson.

MESA - The Granite Mountain Hotshots became the first group winner Thursday of the Arizona State Fire School's Firefighter of the Year Award.

And the tiny Yarnell Fire Department received more than $110,000 worth of new fire equipment from several manufacturers at the same opening ceremony for the fire school.

The State Fire School handed over more than $10,000 worth of its donated prizes to the Prescott Fire Department, too.

The nominating committee really couldn't imagine any other recipient for the 20th annual Firefighter of the Year award, said award presenter Daniel Matlick, president of United Fire Equipment Co. in Tucson.

"It's intended to convey to our firefighters that the public is paying attention...and we appreciate all the risks you take to protect our lives and homes," Matlick said of the award.

Nineteen of the 20 members of the hotshot crew died trying to protect Yarnell from the Yarnell Hill wildfire June 30.

"Never before was a fire in Arizona as devastating to our fire service," Matlick said. It also was the worst U.S. death toll on a wildland fire since 1933.

Lone Granite Mountain Hotshot survivor Brendan McDonough helped Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo and Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis accept the award at the Mesa Convention Center.

"What a humbling award for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, all 20 of them," Willis said after the ceremony.

Matlick talked about how firefighters from throughout the state and country came to Prescott after the disaster to answer fire calls and organize funerals. More than 216 organizations helped, he said.

Matlick also talked about some of the accomplishments of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, which became the only municipal hotshot team in the nation in 2008.

They helped fellow wildland division employees on the department clear out more than 10,000 tons of hazardous bushes and trees on thousands of residents' properties to make Prescott much more defensible against wildfires.

They also helped educate the public about creating defensible space.

"They deserve to be remembered for numerous accomplishments," Matlick said.

Hylton Haynes, associate project manager for Firewise Communities USA, has called Prescott the "gold standard" of Firewise Communities, Matlick noted.

Yarnell equipment bonanza

Eight fire equipment manufacturers gave the Yarnell Fire Department more than $110,000 worth of new equipment to help it recover from its losses during the devastating fire.

The community of about 650 people located about 20 miles south of Prescott lost 20 percent of its homes, including homes of its volunteer firefighters where they stored some of their equipment.

Since the fire, the department's calls for aid have quadrupled while its tax base has been decimated, Matlick said.

Akron Brass Co., All American Hose, Blauer, Bullard, Fire-Dex, LION, MSA-The Safety Co., and SuperVac all donated equipment and gear. MSA alone donated more than $50,000 worth of gear, including a $19,000 thermal imaging camera.

Other donated items included wildland tools, hoses and nozzles, clothing, helmets, goggles and a saw.

The donations literally brought tears to the eyes of Yarnell Fire District Board Chair Arlon Rice.

"This is overwhelming for us," Yarnell Fire Chief Jim Koile said. "We never had wildland equipment before."

He noted that volunteers have been forced to share gear because the department is so short-handed. But they won't have to do that any more.

Kingman tragedy recalled

Thursday's opening ceremony also featured a presentation about another firefighter tragedy in Arizona, the 1973 loss of 11 Kingman firefighters while responding to a railroad car propane explosion.

"Our hearts really went out this past year to the folks in Prescott," said Kingman Fire Chief Joe Dorner, a nephew of one of Kingman's fallen firefighters, Butch Henry. "We know how you feel."

Talking about Kingman's memorial to its firefighters, the Kingman firefighters showed Prescott that it is possible for a community to continue to honor its fallen heroes four decades later.

"The 19 will never be forgotten," Matlick said, adding that they "clearly demonstrated the passion, bravery and brotherhood found in the fire service."

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter: @joannadodder.


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