One Person Inspires Action
January 6, 2014
Photo courtesy: Barry Gossage
It was an unimaginable tragedy. Heart-rending because of the number of lives lost in the small community of Prescott, Arizona. On June 30th, when the first responders from the fire department in Prescott, known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, answered the call and headed for Yarnell, where a brush fire had broken out down a remote mountainside, no one could have anticipated the devastating consequences to follow.
On the West Coast, John McKiernan, listened to the news that day as reports trickled in, that 19 elite and highly experienced firefighters had been reported lost in that Arizona mountain blaze. His heart sank with each report, as his thoughts turned to his two brothers, both involved with fire departments on the West Coast. This could have easily been his family going through the nightmare scenario to follow, as the families of the 19 men were being notified.
Shaken by the catastrophic loss of life, John was unable to stop thinking about what lay ahead for the wives, sisters, brothers, mothers and children of the fallen firefighters. He decided to turn his grief into action with the support of Watertree Health’s senior officers, including CEO & founder Matt Herfield, and the entire group of West Coast reps who quickly mounted a fundraising initiative as a show of respect to the 19 brave men, and the families they left behind.
It would have been easy to simply collect the monies, totaling $18,000, and end the effort by sending a check to the firefighters fund. A feel good act in deed, and something that all employees of Watertree Health would have been proud of, especially as it was nearing the Christmas season and the end of the year. But the thought among Watertree Health’s senior officers, including McKiernan, was that the gesture would mean more, if a personal visit to Prescott could be arranged as a show of respect to the community and its loss.
Ray Maione, Vice President of Members Services for Local 493, the firefighters union in Prescott, welcomed the idea of a visit by the Watertree Health executives. It seemed everyone affiliated with the fire department in Prescott felt the same.
On Thursday, December 19th, John McKiernan, Matt Herfield, Shane Power and Joe Kleiman arrived in Scottsdale and were escorted to Prescott by Charles Cicconi, a representative of Local 493. The men were welcomed in Prescott by Fire Capt. J.P. Vicente who took the four visitors to the burial site where all 19 fallen firefighters had been laid to rest, and the site of a future memorial in their honor.
As a symbol of the company’s heartfelt condolences, the Watertree Health team placed a wreath on behalf of the organization’s employees, at the top of the hill where the graves sit.
The team spent a good deal of time getting a sense of who these brave men were, from Capt. Vicente, as they paid their respect at each individual gravesite.
There was Andrew Ashcraft, the ruggedly handsome jokester, skateboarder, husband and father of four, who was also an applesauce aficionado. And Robert Caldwell, the 23-year-old who took on the mantle of a man with all of its risks, and loved it. Each man’s story was touching in its own way.
Following the gravesite visit, Capt. Vicente arranged a tour of the firehouse that was once home to the 19 Hotshots. There, the Watertree Health team presented the department with a check representing the funds raised by the West Coast reps. The generosity that brought Watertree Health to Prescott was paid back tenfold by the kindness of the folks who welcomed the team at each of the several locations they visited, including the Salvation Army headquarters readying the distribution of gift bags for the most needy residents of Prescott.
No question, the visit to Prescott is a memory that will remain with the Watertree Health executives for years to come. And one that truly spoke of the spirit of the holidays, for even as they mourned their loss, the people in Prescott remained generous of spirit, and full of fellowship, which they imparted on the visitors. A perfect way to end one year and celebrate the start of a new one.