Hilton Head memorial for fallen firefighters in works

rlurye@islandpacket.comDecember 3, 2013 

A quarter century has passed since the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division lost one of its own in the line of duty, and the department believes it's time to create a place to honor them.

Two stations have been named for fallen colleagues, and several walls bear portraits of others who died while serving the division.

Seeking a more enduring testament to their sacrifices, a captain drew up plans more than a year ago for an official memorial. Finding the money to build it has remained a challenge, but last month the division got some help.

On Nov. 23, Sears launched a national Salute to Local Heroes campaign, allowing customers to donate to the National Volunteer Fire Council through the end of the year. Those donations will go to the fire station closest to each store, along with $2 from each purchase of a Craftsman Bottle Cap Wrench.

On Hilton Head Island, that money will go toward building a fallen-firefighters memorial at 40 Summit Drive, a project Chief Lavarn Lucas proposed to the town manager in July 2012.

"It would help build a sense of community amongst the personnel that work here," he said. "It provides them with a connection to the past and helps motivate them for the future."Crew members envision the memorial -- which may feature remembrance walls, a fountain, park benches, flag poles and a sidewalk of donated pavers -- as a space for reflection.

For former members of the division, the project is long overdue. Often working one day on and two days off, firefighters give a third of their lives to their station, said Allen Perry, a former battalion chief who served from 1983 to 2012. Losing a colleague feels like a death in the family, he said.

"You come to work and maybe it'll be the last day you're there. You keep your guard up and do your best and hopefully everybody gets to go home, but sometimes that doesn't happen," Perry said. "Fortunately, we don't have a lot of on-duty deaths, but just one's too many."

Three men have died in active service to the former Sea Pines Forest Beach Fire Department or Hilton Head Fire District, which consolidated in 1993.

Frank Hut drowned while diving in Calibogue Sound in 1987. Volunteer Steve Sellars was electrocuted while extinguishing a plane fire at the Hilton Head Island Airport in 1976. Volunteer Henry Christian fell while rappelling down a structure in a training exercise in 1974.

The planned memorial would also honor more than 10 personnel who died while working for the division or had to retire because of an illness that later took their lives.

Three cost estimates for the memorial, taken in 2010, range from $17,500 to $46,500, according to a memo from Lucas to town manager Steve Riley.

The division must first clear another hurdle: finding an architect to donate design services. Capt. Kenneth Barrett has drawn several rudimentary sketches, but the town requires an official site plan.

For now, they'll keep planning, and Sears will keep fundraising.

A few days into the campaign, some customers were already visiting the Sears simply to donate, store manager Ed Thierrin said.

"But we've still got a long way to go."

To donate to the memorial, go to the Sears store at 1555 Fording Island Road near Moss Creek. For details about purchasing an engraved paver or donating architectural services, call Fire Chief Lavern Lucas at 843-682-5153.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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