Fallen firefighters memorial complete, dedication in March

LITTLE ROCK — George Curlin of Pine Bluff has seen his son’s name etched on memorials honoring fallen firefighters in Colorado and Maryland, and he’s looking forward to seeing it a little closer to home in the state where he died doing what he loved.

On March 22, a dedication will be held for the new $1.2 million Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the state Capitol grounds.

About 3,000 people are expected to attend, including Curlin and relatives of several of the fallen. Curlin’s son, David, was a lieutenant and 14-year veteran of the Pine Bluff Fire Department when he was critically injured on Jan. 3, 2010, when a wall fell on him while fighting a structure fire in downtown Pine Bluff.

The 40-year-old father of three died four months later from his injuries.

“I have a place in Arkansas now that I can visit and touch my son’s name on a wall,” said Curlin, a retired restaurant operator, about the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial. He said he has visited the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colo., several times, as well as the national memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.

The Arkansas memorial includes four bronze statues of firefighters and is on the west side of the state Capitol lawn between the state Department of Education building and the building that houses the state Department of Parks and Tourism. The statute is 11 feet 6 inches tall, and with the four foot high base it stands 16 feet tall.

The memorial features the names of 99 Arkansas firefighters who have died in the line-of-duty since 1889.

Johnny Reep, chairman of the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial, said Mena firefighter Odell Egger, who died in 1987, will be added to the memorial later this year. The Mena Fire Department submitted the Egger’s name in the fall but it was too late to add it to the memorial before the March dedication.

Egger’s name will be read with the other 99, Reep said, adding that the names of two other firefighters who have died in the line-of-duty in Barling and Wilson were recently discovered and could be added to the list later this year.

The four statutes in the memorial each represent different periods of firefighting history: post-Civil War volunteer firefighter, the modern firefighter with a breathing apparatus, the wild land firefighter, the current fireman/paramedic.

The memorial also includes a water fountain and Reep said Lisenne Rockefeller, wife of the late-Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller, who served as finance chairman for the Fallen Firefighter Memorial, will switch on the fountain near the end of the dedication ceremony.

Gov. Mike Beebe and New York City Fire Department Lt. Ray McCormack, who is editor and publisher of Urban Firefighter Magazine, will speak at the event.

Getting the memorial completed has been a long, hard road, Reep said, adding it began in 1985 when he and a few other firefighters first discussed the idea.

Momentum for the memorial was slow to develop, but after after a 1997 chemical fire in Helena-West Helena that killed two city firemen and one volunteer, interest started to grow, Reep said.

“For me, it means we can finally face the families and say, ‘what we have dreamed of now exists,’” Reep said. “’This was done for you. This shows you that the people of Arkansas care about public safety officers.’”

Along with raising the $1.2 million, Reep said, an additional $100,000 also was raised and will be given to the secretary of state’s office for upkeep and maintenance of the monument.

Robert Daus, a retired St. Louis firefighter who has sculpted firefighter memorials in St. Louis and Milwaukee, sculpted the statue, Reep said, and Brooks Jackson was the architect.

Reep said that while researching the fallen firefighters, they found living in Little Rock the great, great grandson of the first fallen firefighter on the list, Julius Deiser of Fort Smith, who died in the line-of-duty on April 2, 1889. That person is expected to attend the memorial, Reep said.

Curlin said he never understood the bond between firefighters across the country until his son’s death.

“I never realized what a family the fire departments are until this happened,” he said, adding that fire departments across the country organized blood donation drives in honor of his son.

Each September since his son died, Curlin said he has traveled to back Colorado to volunteer at the annual ceremony at the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial.

“After that first year I really became attached to a lot of those people up there and it’s been a great thing for me to do … it’s something I can do to honor his name,” he said.

He also said he has been working with Texas firefighters to help them raise money for a memorial in that state.