Firefighters memorial makes its way to NEA
Nineteen fire departments provided encouragement and support as the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial statue traveled from Blytheville to Jonesboro Saturday morning, finally coming to rest at the Turtle Creek Mall.
"The statue is on a 12 city tour and we were pleased to see the overwhelming response to its arrival in Jonesboro Saturday," said Johnny Reep, AFFM chairman. "Blytheville fireman provided an escort for us out of their city, where the statue has been on display since Feb. 28. We were soon joined en route by Dell firemen, then Manila, Leachville, Caraway, Monette, Black Oak and Lake City firemen as we made our way along Highway 18 to Jonesboro."
Other fire departments taking part with the convoy included Cash, Jonesboro, Brookland, Lepanto, Bay, Philadelphia, Bono, and Armorel. Antique fire trucks escorting the statue included Mark Carter, with his 1941 Chevrolet fire truck from Steele, Mo., and Jerald Burns, with his 1946 Ford truck from Palestine, Ark. McCrory fireman John Jones drove the large flatbed truck donated by Greenway Equipment that transported the 6,000-pound statue to Jonesboro.
"It has taken a lot of work by a lot of people to see this statue become a reality and even more people to help us move it around the state for the people to see it close up," Reep said. "Moving this around is no easy task, but one we are committed to.
"The outpouring of support for this statue shows me the people of Arkansas care about our firemen. They put their lives on the line when they are called into action, and people never forget what they do to save lives."
Plans for the AFFM statue began in 1985 and picked up speed after three firefighters were killed in a West Helena fire in 1997.
"Many donations came in after that, and soon we were on our way to designing and constructing the statue," Reep said. "Paula Haskins of Walnut Ridge was the artist who designed the statue depicting three firemen, a female firefighter and a baby. Robert Daus sculpted the larger than life 16 foot tall statue, which is impressive from any angle."
The names of 93 fallen fire fighters are listed on the statue's website, http://www.arfallenfirefighters.org/fallen.php. A search is still on to complete the list of fallen comrades, so their names can be engraved on the base of the statue when it is placed permanently on the State Capitol grounds in Little Rock.
"The statue is worth $301,170, and the memorial plaza to house it will cost $683,020," said Kevin McMasters of Bay, president of the Arkansas State Fire Fighters Association. "People from all over the state have held fundraisers for the cost and placement of the statue. It never ceases to amaze me how committed the people of Arkansas are to this cause. They have received seed money by businesses and many private donations. About 75 percent of the funding came from individual fire departments and fire fighters. The grassroots movement involves everyone."
A large crowd of fire fighters and supporters gathered at the south entrance to Turtle Creek Mall when the statue arrived. Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perin gave the official welcome as a short dedication in a tribute ceremony. Chaplain Steve Farmer called for a sounding of the bell for the fallen fire fighters.
"This fire bell will ring today for all of those who have gone before us," Farmer said. "This is the number 335 ring, which is rung when the fire firefighters are going out, when they need additional resources, and when they make it back to the fire house. This bell rings today to signal that our fallen fire fighters have made it home, and we pay honor to them."
A moment of silence was observed for the fire fighters who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Jonesboro Fire Department Honor Guard Pipe and Drummers provided a closing melodic tribute on the bagpipes.
Frances Aebly, mother of fallen West Helena fire fighter Stewart Warren, was obviously touched by the statue and the ceremony.
"Stewart would have been so proud to see this statue and to know just how much the people of Arkansas care about their firemen," Aebly said. "Stewart died when the BPS Chemical Plant exploded in West Helena in 1997. I have watched the firemen work so hard to raise money for this statue and memorial. This will mean so much to all of his family and all the other families out there who lost loved ones. I just want to stand here and look at it for a long time. I hope everyone who comes out to see it for the next two weeks thinks of the price that was paid by the fallen fire fighters."
The statue cannot be placed on its permanent foundation in Little Rock until all of the funds are raised for completion of the project.
"I seriously expect us to have a groundbreaking in November of this year," Reep said. "People and businesses have been very generous, and so many are working on fundraisers, that this will surly be the year to see it completed. This is a project whose time has come."