March 26, 2014 Edition

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Arkansas firefighters
honor their fallen

Paula Haskins of Walnut Ridge, designer of the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters' Memorial, is shown with the memorial in the background following Saturday's dedication in Little Rock.

Fred Martin
Clay County Courier

It was 28 years in the making, but on March 22, the state capitol grounds were filled with firefighter supporters for the dedication ceremonies of the Fallen Firefighters' Memorial.

Designed in support of all firefighters in the state, the memorial touches the lives of firefighters active in all communities and spotlights the life of those who answered the call and did not return home to their families.

In 1986, board members of the Arkansas State Firefighters Association began discussing ways to salute those firefighters who died in the line of duty. At that time the number of "fallen" stood at 67, but has since risen to 104.

In the spring of 2013, a light rain was falling during the memorial's groundbreaking ceremony on the west side of the capitol building in Little Rock. Several hundred people were there as many relatives and representatives of fallen firefighters had the opportunity to be part of "breaking the ground" on this momentous occasion.

Work soon began on the monument with plans designed by Paula Haskins of Walnut Ridge. She is the wife of Black River Fire Science Instructor Alan Haskins of BRTC Fire Academy in Pocahontas. Robert Daus of Liberty Art Works in St. Louis was the sculptor.

The statues, featuring different eras of firefighting and caring, stand 11 feet, six inches high. "Old Leather Lungs" represents the origins of firefighters; "The Angel of Mercy" represents paramedic firefighters; "On the Line," salutes the wild land and forestry firefighter; "Push' In" represents all current firefighters.

Several Lawrence County residents attended the dedication, including Peggy Coker Maryman of Walnut Ridge who went with her sister, Claudia Coker of Dallas. Their brother, former Walnut Ridge Fire Chief Joe Coker, worked on the memorial. He was president of the Fireman's Association when the project started and met with Bill Clinton about the project in its early stages. He was also the one who requested Paula to work on the designs for the sculpture. He died from a heart attack in 2004 shortly after serious efforts to complete the memorial began.

The Walnut Ridge Fire Department purchased a granite paver at the memorial site, which has been dedicated to Joe.

Leading Saturday's processional for the dedication was the Pipe and Drum Corps of the Jonesboro Fire Department, one of several fire department bagpipe groups in Arkansas. Other pipers and drummers were from Little Rock, Fort Smith and Conway, and Newark and Longview, Texas, fire departments.

The crowd was estimated at over 1,400 gathered around the memorial when Project Chairman Johnny Repp opened with the welcome. Many elected officials, including Governor Mike Beebe, were present. The ceremony included "The Fireman's Prayer" and calling the name of each fallen firefighter since 1889 at which time a bell rang, coinciding with placing a red rose at the base of the memorial.

The Arkansas State Firefighters Association was formed and has been ongoing since 1920. The ASFFA represents "all" firefighters in the state of Arkansas.

Information from the group indicates the following: "The object of this organization shall be the fostering and the encouragement of a high degree of skill and efficiency in all fire departments in the state; to encourage the establishment of schools of instruction for imparting knowledge of modern and improved methods of fire suppression and fire prevention; to encourage the enactment of laws that will protect the lives and property of the citizens of Arkansas, and laws that will give protection to 'firefighters' and create more efficiency in all fire departments in the State of Arkansas, and the cultivation of a friendship among its members and the provision of membership benefits."

(Additional reporting by Megan Heyl, staff writer at The Times Dispatch.)

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