Everette Watson, a fire chief who died in the line of duty last fall, was described by his friend and successor as "the epitome of what a leader should be" who deserves nothing less than to have his name etched on a national monument.
Watson, 58, is one of four Arkansas firefighters being honored during the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, Md.
"That is the perfect way to honor Chief Watson," said current Calvert Township Fire Department Chief Allen Barnes. "The amount of effort he gave to his community over the years was incredible."
A candlelight service was held Saturday evening, and a memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. today.
A video feed of the service can be found at weekend.firehero.org/events/memorial-weekend/memorial-weekend-coverage. The service will also be livestreamed on the foundation's Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The other Arkansas firefighters being honored this weekend are Cory Collins, 32, of Pine Bluff; Dennis Graham, 69, of Jonesboro; and Jerry Robinson, 56, of North Little Rock.
The tribute will honor a total of 144 firefighters across the country who died in the line of duty -- 79 last year and another 65 who died in previous years, according to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Each firefighter's name will be inscribed on a bronze plaque and become a permanent part of the memorial, which is open to the public year-round.
"This is a way our organization ensures to the loved ones of these heroes that their sacrifices are never forgotten," said foundation Executive Director Ron Siarnicki.
Siarnicki, who has led the foundation since 2001, said the foundation investigates the circumstances of each death. He said the criteria set in 1997 was to honor firefighters who died at the scene of fires, whether from building collapses or a medical emergency. Those who died in traffic crashes en route to a fire also were among those honored.
After 9/11, when many firefighters were stricken with illnesses related to toxins in the air at the World Trade Center, the criteria began to change. Since then, firefighters who died from certain illnesses have been included. That was amended recently to include covid-19, Siarnicki said.
Watson led a volunteer fire department that regularly provided mutual aid to neighboring Sheridan and other fire agencies across Grant County. He died in October after suffering a heart attack while participating in a training drill, firefighters said.
Sheridan Fire Chief Ben Hammond called Watson "a great man and a great leader" who made an impression on firefighters across the county.
"It's great to see that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are being honored both locally and nationally for making those sacrifices," Hammond said.
Collins was an engineer with Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services. He died in August 2021 due to complications from covid-19.
In an article in the Pine Bluff Commercial following Collins' death, Fire Chief Shauwn Howell called Collins a "good-spirited person" who always gave his fullest effort in everything he did.
"[He was] a model individual, something everyone can aspire to be," Howell said.
Graham was an assistant chief with the Southridge Fire Department near Jonesboro. He had responded to two calls on Feb. 28, 2017, and arrived home that day suffering from severe headaches, his colleagues said.
He collapsed while trying to take himself to the hospital and was pronounced dead the next day. Doctors said he died due to complications from a stroke.
Roy Guthrie joined the Southridge Fire Department in 1981, the same year Graham did. He responded to a brush fire in an area that was next to Graham's property. Graham came out and helped the volunteer firefighters put out the fire. That's when Graham realized how important fire service work was and that inspired him to join the department, Guthrie said.
"He was just so committed to his community," Guthrie said. "That's who Denny was."
Guthrie told the story of how a storm tore off the roof of his house one morning in 2000. He called Graham to come over and help him assess the damage. Graham not only helped Guthrie remove the damaged roof and place a tarp in its place, he helped him replace the entire roof.
"He actually helped me put my entire roof back together," Guthrie said. "That tells you all you need to know about Denny."
Robinson, known by his friends and family as "Red Bear" and who had long served the North Little Rock Fire Department, died in June 2022 of "occupational cancer," according to the agency he served. After retiring as a fire marshal in North Little Rock, Robinson was a volunteer firefighter with the St. Vincent Fire Department.