In December, it was announced the Firefighter Memorial, which currently stands at Mills Park, will have a new one resurrected on the Capitol Grounds.
But, with the decommissioning of Carson City’s Firefighter Memorial, the city will be losing a piece of history for some of Nevada’s fire service.
East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini is the last committee member on the board of directors who helped bring the original memorial to Carson City and he wanted to share its story.
The idea for the memorial came from the late Lody Smith, a former State Forester, who started the non-profit to raise funds for the project in 1994. At that time, there were only six board of directors involved with the project: Lowell “Lody” Smith, Bernard Cease, Lawrence Jacobsen, John Holmes and Carlini.
“I am not sure what the drive for it was but all of a sudden it just took one individual to throw the idea out and that was all it really took,” Carlini said.
The purpose of the memorial was to honor all of Nevada’s firefighters who had lost their lives and represents all of Nevada’s fire service members, not just the fire districts.
The men on the committee had to dig through archives to find the names of firefighters prior to the 1990s who were killed in the line of duty. Names on the memorial date all the way back from 1860 to current.
“We were fortunate to have a gentleman who had a keen interest in Nevada history,” Carlini said. “He was able to go and find various names through newspapers.”
It took the group nearly three years to raise the $100,000 to build the memorial and put it onto the grounds, Carlini said. They sought donations from businesses, corporations and volunteer fire districts — most of the materials were donated including the cement and mixing trucks the statue is built on.
“(Smith) was a dynamic guy with lots of contacts and was the driving force behind this,” Carlini said.
Carlini said they had originally wanted to place the memorial on the Capitol Grounds, but the state was still in the process of building the government complex and officials didn’t want the statue to interfere with building plans.
“We had the support from the legislatures, but it was during a period when the state was building the areas on the Capitol Grounds and so they were reluctant to give the site to us with their building plans because they were building the Supreme Court building, the library and the parking lots,” Carlini said. “There were just lots of things going on around the grounds.”
So, the group decided to settle for the Mills Park site.
“With courtesy to Carson City, it wasn’t our first choice,” Carlini said. “…We made attempts after (the construction was finished on the grounds) to look at moving the memorial but we didn’t have the legislative traction at that point.
“We had also wanted to be sensitive to the law enforcement memorial that was also being erected because we didn’t want to be in competition with their memorial.”
Unfortunately, Mills Park hadn’t been the kindest location to the memorial. Over the years, the board often had to deal with graffiti and vandalism on the memorial due to the lack of security and area it was in.
“We have even had some of the plaques removed before with the exception of a few years we have had to replace plaques,” Carlini said. “So it has been a challenge in Mills Park, especially in the early years because it was a general hang out for kids at the high school, we have had to chase kids away.
“But other than the Capitol Grounds it all came together quite well.”
And now after all of these years, Carlini said he’s excited to see the memorial move to the Capitol Grounds. The Professional Firefighters of Nevada, the group overseeing the new memorial, even asked Carlini to sit on the new board for the oversight of the memorial.
“I am happy to see this because our initial attempt was to have it there and we were never able to make it happen,” Carlini said. “…The move to the Capitol Grounds will secure its security and the presence at the seat of government is important.”
For Carlini, the new memorial is more than just a new memorial; it’s an emotional tribute to his fellow firefighters and friends.
“I know lots of guys on that wall, I worked with some, some were my mentors and they deserve to be in a better place where people can see them and see their faces,” Carlini said, choking up. “Angelo (Aragon), the president of PFFN, is passionate about this, his idea is to tell their stories and it will be one of the best things that could happen because every one of them has a story, they had a life and a story that people will be interested in.”
To those involved in the fire service, the memorials mean more than some could ever know.
“It is hard when you have the ceremonies (adding a name to the plaque), when the family removes the cloth and touches it, it’s an emotional experience even if you aren’t directly connected to it,” Carlini said. “It is no different than what our law enforcement brothers and sisters experience because you just never know, it is a dangerous job. But now we have a place to memorialize those we have lost in a more visible place.”
But the current memorial is scheduled to have a decommissioning ceremony to honorably remove it.
“I had mixed emotions about it because…there is huge gratitude on my part for it, but I have also been with (the old memorial) for so long,” Carlini said. “But I am happy it is getting relocated with a proper decommissioning and offer the upmost respect as they are doing the transition, which is know they will. So I am pleased to do this after all these years.”
While they haven’t decided exactly what they want to do yet, Carlini said each plaque will be removed and likely given to its respected department for them to decide what to do with it further.
“We have had interesting times at that memorial,” Carlini said. “We have had events in the rain, some years it’s been so cold the bagpipes couldn’t play.”
One of the unique things about the memorial is it honors all firefighters who died.
“So if someone had a heart problem or cancer because of working the fire service and died, we recognize those individuals too,” Carlini said.
Carlini said they anticipate having one last ceremony with the old memorial before it’s decommissioned and transitioning to the new one by 2019.