Courtesy photo
Firefighters came from Pioche, Caliente, Caliente BLM, Alamo, and Santa Clara, Utah, to join the past and present Panaca Fire Department firefighters in honoring and remembering Harry James Birkmier.

The new fire department signs were covered in black memorial fabric. The fire trucks were all lined up in formation, adorned with black memorial bunting. Harry’s Wildland Firefighters helmet was placed on top of the memorial bunting covering the rock and with the turning over of Ladder 65, the unfurling of and raising the US flag while “Amazing Grace” was played on the bagpipes, the Panaca Volunteer Firefighters of the Panaca Fire District started their memorial to honor Harry James Birkmier.

Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, the Panaca Fire District honored Harry James Birkmier with final honors and laid to rest his ashes to always be remembered as an integral part of the growth and development of the Panaca Fire District and Training Center as it is known today.

As the US flag was raised to the very tip of the ladder boom by Panaca volunteer firefighters Kade Lee, Hunter Blood, and Captain Beau Carlson, fellow firefighter and friend John Miller from the Santa Clara, UT, fire department played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. Chaplin/firefighter Mike Anderson of the Panaca Fire Department then offered the opening prayer of the ceremony.

Guests were then invited indoors to the training room, where Harry taught many a class on firefighter safety, to listen to Fire Chief Kerry Lee recount his remembrances of Harry’s life from the early 1990s to present. Attendees were then invited to share “PG Harry stories” they had experienced with Harry over the years. There were stories about wood cutting, 911 dispatching, and building wildland fire trucks from old scrounged parts in Harry’s backyard. There were stories about fitting all the trucks into the little garage next to the post office and the dream of building a new fire station from the ground up – something about a nail gun and a 911 call to the new fire department involving Harry’s hand? Folks shared stories about Harry placing multiple lengthy orders for needed equipment and supplies to build the department resources. There were many stories about Harry on wildland fires and the smoke getting in and tearing up his eyes then Harry taking a break only to light up a cigarette and smoke it with the one lung he had left. Stories about how he impacted the lives of young up-and-coming firefighters that dreamed of being firefighters and someday using the skills Harry taught them. Harry regaled us with many opportunities to remember him by over the years.

Chief Lee and new Assistant Fire Chief Miles Umina then dedicated the training room to Harry and read the inscription on the plaque to what Harry will always be remembered for. It said,

“The Panaca Fire District Dedicates this Training Room to the Memory of Harry James Birkmier – September 29, 2018 – For being an original member in the construction of this new building from the ground up.

For tireless work, writing and applying for grants, thus upgrading the firefighter gear, equipment, trucks, and station.

For coordinating and teaching countless hours of structure, rescue, medical and wildland training sessions on nights, weekends, and even holidays.

For being instrumental and dedicated to the dream of a fire department training center for the past, present, and future firefighters in the different disciplines of the Panaca Fire District.

Having the desire to serve, the courage to act, and the ability to perform

above and beyond the call of duty.

Harry James Birkmier – End of Watch – 3/12/45 – 8/22/17”

The plaque was placed on the training room wall to remind all past, present, and future firefighters of what dedication and hard work can accomplish.

It was noted, at the end of the remembrances portion of the memorial, that the traditional last call of Harry’s call numbers, “7602,” was conducted after his passing, at the very next firefighters’ class graduation in March 2018.

The guests were then invited outside to finish the ceremony. What may have been overlooked or lost in transition was where Harry’s ashes/remains would be interned.

The fire department knew that the internment of Harry’s ashes would take a bit of pre-work prior to the formal ceremony on Saturday. On May 3, past firefighter Geoffrey Davis, USN, had the honor of presenting Harry’s ashes to Fire Chief Kerry Lee.

In April, Nevin had entrusted Geoff to “deliver Harry home” to the Panaca Fire Department. That started the process of formally acknowledging and honoring Harry’s contributions to the department. In the following weeks, prior to the memorial, the fire department ordered a brand-new flagpole; recreated an outdoor replica of the department flag Harry had helped design, created a rock memorial plaque; a training room dedication plaque; contacted Bert Cox, who graciously took the time to find the perfect rock (three-sided like the fire triangle) to place over Harry’s ashes; and started the prep work to dig out the dead grass area to the right of the main door of the fire department.

By Tuesday, Sept. 25, all the pieces were in place. The flagpole was raised. Harry’s ashes, presented to the fire department in a beautiful wooden box, were placed in a protective PVC pipe container. A hole was dug and Harry was placed in the ground. Firefighters Neil Heiselbetz and Beau Carlson covered the remains with the assistance of Grant Perkins and the Panaca Farmstead’s backhoe. Bert’s rock was placed over top of Harry, all supervised by Fire Chief Kerry Lee.

The rock memorial plaque was installed and the next day, concrete was poured and stamped with a beautiful rock motif, thus securing the rock from moving and encasing Harry forever and eternity as a watchful eye over the dream of a new fire department training center.

Outside, the ceremony continued with the unveiling/presentation of the memorial rock and plaque marking Harry’s internment site. The plaque has the Maltese Cross on the top left corner and reads:

“In Memory of Assistant Chief Harry James Birkmier

24 Years Dedicated Service

End of Watch 8-22-2017

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Panaca Fire District”

Then Captain Carlson and firefighters Blood and Lee raised the United States, Nevada, and newly re-created Panaca Fire Department flags for the first time on the new flagpole, while the traditional song for passed/fallen firefighters, “Going Home,” was played on the bagpipes.

The traditional last alarm bell ceremony was read/conducted by Assistant Fire Chief Miles Umina. It reads: “Throughout most of history, the lives of firefighters have been closely associated with the ringing of a bell. As they began their hours of duty, it was the bell that started it off. Through the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell that called them to fight fire and to place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow man. And when the fire was out, and the alarm had come to an end, the bell rang three times to signal the end.

And now our brother, Harry James Birkmier, has completed his task, his duties well done, and the bell rings three times in memory of, and in tribute to, his life and service.”

Everyone was asked to come to attention. The bell was reverently struck three times, and chaplin/firefighter Mike Anderson offered a closing prayer.

With that, the Panaca Fire Department had completed their honor of paying their final traditional respects for their fellow firefighter and friend, Assistant Fire Chief Harry James Birkmier.