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One of the most important things we can do as firefighters is to never forget the sacrifices made by those who went before us or the lessons we have learned from them. In particular, we should not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.
It has been 35 years since 11 firefighters gave the ultimate sacrifice in a propane explosion in Kingman, AZ. In spite of the terrible loss of life, no other hazmat incident has occurred in the United States that has had more of a positive impact on the fire service than the Kingman incident. Many changes in procedures and regulations occurred across the fire service as a result of this explosion. We owe uncounted saved lives to those brave men who gave theirs in Kingman that fateful day in July 1973.
Kingman firefighters, family members of those firefighters lost, brother firefighters from across the region and community residents gathered at Kingman Middle School on July 5, 2008, at 10 A.M. to remember the 11 firefighters and one civilian who perished. Over 700 people attended, including representatives from 35 fire departments and seven law enforcement agencies. I had the opportunity to attend the service as well. It was one of the most moving and heart-warming experiences of my life. Chief Charles Osterman and his staff, with assistance from the community at large, did a remarkable job of honoring the 11 firefighters who died that day and making sure they are not forgotten.
The service began with remarks by Chief Osterman, followed by the Kingman Fire Department Honor Guard under the command of Fire Prevention Specialist Keith Eaton presenting the colors. Next, there was a procession of visiting honor guards and other uniformed firefighters. Department Chaplain Dave Patriquin gave the invocation, then brief remarks were made by Kingman Mayor John Salem; Bob Barger, director of the Arizona Department of Fire, Building and Life Safety; and Tim Hill, president of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona.
The speakers were followed by a video presentation showing scenes from the incident and an American Heat documentary prepared about the incident during the 25th anniversary. Chief Osterman read a biography of each of the 11 firefighters as his photograph was displayed on the screen, followed by the traditional ringing of a fire department bell six times for each firefighter. Following the bell-ringing ceremony, a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" was played by the combined bagpipes from Kingman and Glendale, AZ, and Henderson, NV, followed by a closing prayer from Chaplain Patriquin.
Upon completion of the inside ceremony, honor guard members and uniformed firefighters formed two lines in the parking lot outside as family members passed through. Everyone gathered by the flag pole in nearby Firefighter's Memorial Park. The five-acre park was rededicated with the raising of a U.S. flag, lowering it to half staff and the playing of "Taps." An Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter performed a flyover to conclude the memorial service.
In 1973, the Kingman Fire Department was a combination force of six career firefighters and 36 volunteers operating out of two stations. One career member was on duty in each station at all times. Equipment in service at the time of the explosion included four engines and a rescue vehicle. Station 2 was just a half-mile west of the Doxol Gas Distribution Plant, the site of the explosion. At 1:30 P.M. on July 5, 1973, two workers began to connect hoses to a rail car to start the off-loading process. As the off-loading proceeded, one of the men detected a small leak in a connection. A leaking liquid connection was struck with a wrench. That's when a fire erupted. It is thought that a spark was created as the wrench struck the steel fitting.