There is no other place like the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning & Tribute Center (LTC) in the country. That's because the memories originate in Prescott. From there, the stories radiate to the rest of the country and even the world.
When the Granite Mountain 19 died tragically in 2013, the people in Prescott did what they always do. They picked themselves up, wiped their eyes, figured out what needed to be done next. They reached out to one another and offered support. The process was messy and heart wrenching. The path wasn’t always straightforward. Nobody had gone through this before. There wasn’t a manual for what to do or say.
Ultimately, the families of the fallen and the people of Prescott also looked into the future. And they said, "We do not ever want this to happen again."
The Learning and Tribute Center started with a desire to honor the men that died in the Yarnell Fire. To share their lives and their passions as men and as Hotshots. But, that’s not all it’s about.
"I love these guys, I worked right alongside them," Tom Haney, one of the LTC Board members said. "I want them to be honored for what they did. But part of their legacy is the prevention part… And that story needs to be shared, too."
What is on display today, Haney explained, is really just the beginning. "We wanted this to be respectful to the guys and the families. We wanted them to know that they are not forgotten and they are in our hearts… But we also want them to know that this is going to be a place where people will always be visiting, and that draw will be prevention and education."
"I didn’t know what to expect when I came in here today," Prescott Fire Marshal Don Devendorf said. "This is amazing… To have this whole thing come together, it’s breathtaking… I come in here and immediately tear up, because this is all great guys, co-workers and just great memories of who they were before we lost them."
"Part of this is a memorial and part of this is educational," Devendorf points out. "We all start out as firefighters in this particular realm. And then we get older and there aren’t 50-year-old hotshots, and there’s a reason for that. So now we get to be in the position as we get older to try to make their jobs easier and their jobs safer. This whole learning center, as you look around, it’s the educational component."
"Come down," Haney said, inviting people to come to the LTC. "We’re going to educate people on the system because they’re a part of it."
Take a walkthru with this video and learn about the displays and their significance:
Preservation and Display
When the community learned of the Yarnell Fire tragedy, the fence around the Granite Mountain Hotshot Interagency Crew station became the place to leave tokens of love and sympathy. People came from all over the state to pay their respect, items were sent from all over the country, and even the world. Over just a few days, thousands of items were left at what became the Tribute Fence.
Katie Cornelius, the official exhibit Curator, probably has a more detailed knowledge of the items in the Tribute Fence collection than anyone else. She designed the layout and displays in the Learning & Tribute Center to include items from the fence, as well as other memorabilia. She can tell you how many t-shirts there are, and how the fence was divided into sections. She knows the toys, and the art and the flags.
"People use different things to deal with grief, to express condolence or sympathy," Cornelius explained. "Some people use art, some people use words, some people use items that remind them of that person. So, when you look at these things, you can see that all of them were an expression of sympathy and how we as humans use so many different ways to express that, I think is incredible. We’d love to highlight those things. The art - we have fine art and we have folk art, yet, they’re both an expression of love and sympathy."
Cornelius said that the exhibit will evolve, and there will always be something to highlight that innate human nature to give something of oneself.
Preserving the items five years ago was a challenge in itself. Fortunately, Cornelius has a lot of experience in handling historical items, and she ensured that everything was preserved with museum-quality standards. When the items were first removed from the fence, they were wet from monsoon rains. Then the items were brought into a warm building, creating an environment that was perfect for developing mildew and other problems.
So Cornelius organized the volunteers to put t-shirts straight into dryers without laundering them, and the more than 800 flags were taken to the Eagles banquet room and laid out on tables. Many items were placed into a freezer for 3 days to ensure there was no living bug larva.
Then every item had to be catalogued, labeled and tagged. Volunteers sewed muslin bags to place the cloth items into. Each item is tagged with the date received, and numbered as to when it was removed from the fence, noting the section it came from.
Remarkably, even now, five years later, people are still wanting to donate memorabilia to the Center. At this point, Cornelius explained, they don’t have the ability to accept any more donations, and they can’t guarantee it would be on display now or even in the future. "Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring everything out at some point, but, really truly, with almost 10,000 items, people have to be cognizant that if they donate something, yes, we’ll take good care of it, but we can’t guarantee the public will see it."
There’s one thread of knowledge running through the exhibit that is elusive to Cornelius. Who left each item? What were they thinking and feeling? What was the significance they were trying to share?
"Each item has a different story, and some of them we’ll never know," Cornelius said. "I would love to do an exhibit at some point where people can come back and tell the stories of why they left the items they left. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build that into our website, where people can say, 'Oh, I left this item,' find it on the fence, and tell the story about it."
Cornelius reached up and pulled down a muslin bag. "It’s pretty easy to find them because their number is right here," she said. "Again, this is from Section 11, so if we wanted to find a particular shirt, we can actually do it by number."
She pulled the shirt out of the bag. It was faded in spots and worn. "This one is actually a firefighter, this is Anthony Marino’s shirt," she said, pointing to the name imprinted on the front of the t-shirt. "He took this off his back. He’s part of Black Canyon Fire Department. So, Anthony, I’d love to talk to you about your experience, since we actually know who put this on the fence. But check out that pattern. That was done by the sun and the monsoons."
According to Cornelius, every item left on the fence can be seen online as part of the Arizona Memory Project. She said that people can search the site and find the item they left. "If you can find your item there [at the Arizona Memory Project], make an appointment, and tell us the number and come back here. If you make an appointment, we can come in and actually find your item."
"We have one particular piece, that I would love to know who left it," Cornelius said. "We have part of a broken shovel, that was left by a hotshot. He said he was a hotshot in the 70’s… He left a note with it and said that at the end of the year, if they knew a crew member was not returning, they would break the shovel so it couldn’t be used again… I’d love to meet that hotshot who left the broken shovel and shared that hotshot tradition with us."
"I would love to hear these stories," Cornelius said. "I think it would be amazing."
There will be a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting on Friday, June 29th at noon. There is no admission fee to enter the LTC. Financial donations are accepted.
How to find the LTC:
Go to Gateway Mall. Here is a map for you to look at. Use the entrance between D1 and D2 (that’s where the military recruiters are). Go to the center aisle, and you’ll see Zales on the right. Turn right, and it’s the first storefront on the right after Zales (in the A2 section).
Friday, June 29, 2018, 12 pm - 4 pm
Saturday, June 30, 2018, 10 am - 3:30 pm
July 1 - July 8, 2018
10 am - 4 pm (except Sundays, open at 11 am)
Remainder of July 2018
Fridays, 10 am - 4 pm
Saturdays, 10 am - 4 pm
Sundays, 11 am - 4 pm