In 2008 the Sedalia Fire Department experienced its first line of duty death since the early 1970s when fire inspector Rick Morris was killed from injuries sustained in a fire. At the time, the Missouri Fire Service Funeral Assistance Team was deployed to Sedalia to help the department and Morris’ family with the funeral arrangements and other necessities.
This week SFD Deputy Chief Greg Harrell is repaying the favor.
On July 4 Harrell received word the assistance team had been requested to attend the memorial service and funerals of the 19 firefighters killed June 30 in a wildfire in Prescott, Ariz.
SFD Chief Mike Ditzfeld said Harrell left Sunday with eight other firefighters from across the state and will stay in Arizona for the week.
“Greg has been involved with the Missouri team since our own line of duty death,” Ditzfeld said. “It’s a great honor to be ask to assist at any firefighter funeral, but Arizona especially because it was such a terrible time for the community.”
According to the Associated Press, the Granite Mountain Hotshots were fighting a wildfire at Yarnell Hill, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, when they were overun by smoke and fire. Only one member of the crew survived. The memorial service, held Tuesday, drew crowds numbering nearly 30,000 and was attended by vice president Joe Biden, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Ditzfeld said Harrell will likely attend several individual funerals during the week and will be back in Sedalia by the weekend.
“Funerals are always an emotional time but funerals of fellow firefighters are especially hard,” Ditzfeld said. “Which is why the assistance team comes in to help. They’re partially funded through the national Fallen Firefighters Association and they help coordinate the funerals, including the special flags used, the bell that will be rung — which signals the firefighter’s last alarm — and the drapes on the fire trucks. Most departments don’t have those things so they bring everything in.”
The assistance team goes through extensive training, Ditzfeld added, and will be available as long as needed.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, attending funerals of fallen firefighters,” he said. “Greg’s involvement in the assistance team makes us very proud. We’re happy we can help in some small way.”