Our state suffered a terrible tragedy June 30 when 19 elite firefighters lost their lives battling the Yarnell fire. It was the worst single incident loss of life for firefighters since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
William Warneke, one of the 19, was a member of our community. A Granite Mountain Hotshot, Warneke was a former Marine who served a tour of duty in Iraq. He was a hero who believed in the crucial role of protecting the public and, by all accounts, had a bright future in the firefighting profession.
Because he and his wife lived in our community, Warneke’s family chose to have him buried at the Marana Mortuary and Cemetery on July 10. Knowing that there would be a significant number of people who wanted to pay their respects, the town teamed with Northwest Fire District on event logistics.
Warneke was flown by Blackhawk helicopter to the Marana Regional Airport, where the procession began a six-mile route to the cemetery. Dozens of public safety personnel, including a hotshot crew from Sacramento, followed the fire truck that carried Warneke to his final resting place.
Hundreds lined the roads between the airport and cemetery to show their support. Fellow Marines, public safety members and families carrying American flags turned out to say goodbye to a man they may have never met but whose work they deeply respected.
Members of our police department and Northwest Fire personnel felt a kinship to Warneke and the rest of the Granite Mountain team. They know what it means to put their lives on the line to keep the public safe and they did an outstanding job ensuring that the procession and ceremony were to the standards that Warneke deserved.
Working closely with our police department, the town’s traffic engineering division created the procession route and parking plans. Our community development and neighborhood services team along with our parks and recreation department pulled together shuttles to take the public to the service. Our public works crews did an excellent job preparing temporary parking lots and improving the right of way near the cemetery. Members of our town Council and management team attended the ceremony and employees lined the procession route to pay their respects.
Sadly, there were many more solemn ceremonies held for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, including one for all 19 in Prescott Valley the day before Warneke’s funeral. I am proud to say that the town and Northwest Fire did all they could to give this brave man the ceremony he deserved.
Warneke and his fellow elite firefighters died while protecting life and property. Their memories will live on and serve as inspirations for all whose work requires bravery that goes far beyond the call of duty.
(Editor’s Note: Gilbert Davidson is the Marana town manager.)