The night after 19 firefighters died in Yarnell last year, 12 men gathered in a Prescott parking lot to face a solemn task: Recovering the bodies of their fallen comrades and seeing to it that they were returned to their loved ones.
Those who took part considered the task a sacred duty and part of that sacred credo, “Leave no man behind.”
J.P. Vicente served as the duty chief for the Prescott Fire Department on June 30, 2013. He said he was fighting a lightning strike fire on P Mountain when he heard the news. The Granite Mountain Hotshots were forced to deploy shelters. A few minutes later, 19 of them were confirmed dead.
“There’s a sense of brotherhood here,” he said, “it was our guys; it was the right thing for us to be the ones to go up there and remove them.”
Vicente gathered his crews in the parking lot of the Prescott Fire Department and selected the 12 men who would go to the site. They included Danny Parker, a fellow firefighter and the father of one of the fallen, 22-year-old Wade Parker.
“When we got there, the first thing we did was pay respect to them,” Vicente said. “Danny Parker asked if everyone would allow him to say a prayer.”
Parker dropped to his knees, and then all of the other men did as well, Vicente said.
“And Danny prayed over all 19 of those men. And, specifically, thanked God that he was able to have his son, Wade, on this earth for 22 years,” he said. “I don’t think I could have done that. I don’t know many men in this world that could have done that.”
It was midnight by the time they arrived at the scene. Vicente described the scene as a, “purification in the black.”
“I never felt that I was on holier ground in my life,” he said.
Vicente said the mountain was stripped clean; just boulders and inches of soot were left. “There was one cactus that was there that was about three foot tall,” he said.
Prescott Fire Chief Darrell Willis said one more prayer – the 23rd psalm – and the work began.
“Then we started the process of honoring those men and getting them off that mountain,” Vicente said.
They lifted the men into a line of hearses that were waiting to take them home.
From that moment on, they made sure someone stayed with each of the fallen hotshots – until they were laid to rest in their graves.
“I felt like our duty had been done to that point,” Vicente said. “There was a sense of peace and there was a sense of calmness.”
Even though this was an experience none of the men ever wanted to go through, Vicente said they were simply doing what any other firefighter would have done.
“Every one of those individuals are still on the job, they still get on those trucks every day,” he said, “because that’s what’s expected and that’s what the Granite Mountain Hotshots would respect and do.”