PRESCOTT VALLEY, ARIZ. — On a day filled with speeches from dignitaries including the vice president, the words of the lone survivor of a fire crew overrun by flames resonated deepest in an arena packed with firefighters from around the nation.
A stone-faced Brendan McDonough filed onto the stage at the end of the service and offered what’s called “The Hot Shot’s Prayer,” calmly reciting the words: “For if this day on the line I should answer death’s call, Lord, bless my Hotshot crew, my family, one and all.”
He concluded by telling the crowd: “Thank you, and I miss my brothers.”
McDonough spoke at a memorial for the 19 members of the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 when an out-of-control fire overran them as they tried to protect a former gold-mining town from the inferno.
Vice President Joe Biden called them “men of uncommon valor” while thanking God that one member of the crew survived unhurt.
“There’s an old saying: All men are created equal, and then a few became firefighters,” Biden said.
The event was marked by an outpouring of support from firefighters from across the country, who traveled to the Prescott area to honor their fallen brethren.
They talked about how firefighters are accustomed to answering the call of duty when the alarm sounds and sends them into harm’s way. And they noted that the same can be said when a fellow firefighter dies.
“When you hear of a death, especially a group of firefighters, and there’s 19 that we’re here to mourn, there’s no question that at the drop of a hat you do what you can to go and support the fire service and their families,” said Capt. Steve Brown of the Rancho Cucamonga.
The memorial in Prescott Valley began with a choir singing “On Eagle’s Wings” as Biden sang along from the sidelines. Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano looked on, as did Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, and other members of the state’s congressional delegation.
Gov. Jan Brewer praised people around the country for responding as she hoped they would — with candlelight vigils, financial contributions, prayers, and flowers and notes placed at makeshift memorials.
“Of course our hearts are filled with profound sadness today, but they’re also filled with great pride,” she said.
Tuesday’s memorial was the last of a handful of vigils for the men before the first of 19 funerals begin later in the week.
Ron Merrell, pastor of Heights Church, asked for comfort in an opening prayer, saying the past week has felt like “hell on Earth,” leaving the families and firefighting community broken, confused, hurt and numb. He held up the firefighters as heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice not only in death but in life.