Memorial dedicated in honor of fallen firefighter pilots

Daughter of fallen pilot Todd Tompkins presenting an award to a local BLM representative, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY Friday, as planes landed on the runway of the Cedar City regional airport, memories flew overhead and landed in the minds of those attending a memorial site dedication service for two fallen firefighter pilots.

Vickie Miner of the Wildlife Firefighter Foundation presenting a remembrance token to Kris Bruington of the Lone Peak Hotshots, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News
Vickie Miner of the Wildlife Firefighter Foundation presenting a remembrance token to Kris Bruington of the Lone Peak Hotshots, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News

It was on June 3, 2012, that Tanker 11 pilot Capt. Todd Neal Tompkins, 48, and his copilot Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, both of Boise, Idaho, lost their lives fighting the White Rock Fire on the Utah-Nevada border west of Cedar City.

Family members, friends, co-workers and representatives from the Color Country Interagency Fire Center, Cedar City Fire Department, Bureau of Land Management and the Division of Natural Resources gathered at the Cedar City Air Tanker Base to commemorate, honor and memorialize the men’s lives.

Tompkins and Chambless were flying aircraft for contractor Neptune Aviation. They had been dropping retardant on the east flank of the White Rock Fire, burning in Hamlin Valley, about 80 miles west of Cedar City.

It was on approach for their second retardant drop of the day when the Cold War-era Lockheed P2V crashed. Firefighters from across the western United States were working the fire when the aircraft went down.

In 2015, Kris Bruington, superintendent of the Lone Peak Hotshot crew, asked readers of Fire and Aviation to support the group’s effort to raise funds to build the memorial.

When fundraising efforts concluded, nearly 100 donors gave $14,881, exceeding the target of $14,566. The memorial is located at the crash site in Hamlin Valley.

The fallen firefighters families, along with The Color Country Interagency Fire Center, The Cedar City Fire Department, The Bureau of Land Management and the Division of Natural Resources gathered to commemorate, honor and memorialize the lives of Todd Tompkins and Ronnie Chambless, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News
The fallen firefighters families, along with The Color Country Interagency Fire Center, The Cedar City Fire Department, The Bureau of Land Management and the Division of Natural Resources gathered to commemorate, honor and memorialize the lives of Todd Tompkins and Ronnie Chambless, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News

The memorial features two 5-feet-tall, 950-pound granite obelisks engraved with the names of the pilots, color photos of the Tanker 11 aircraft, and interpretive signs with the story of the fire and crash.

“In this line of work, we often experience superhuman heroism and it is remarkable. These people wake up and protect families and communities as well as safeguard invaluable environmental resources,” State Forester and Director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands Brian Cottom said in his remarks. “The memorial that we are here to dedicate today will ensure that Ronnie and Todd will never be forgotten.”

Mike Melton, southwest fire management officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, echoed those thoughts.

Old glory proudly waving for the Memorial Dedication Service for fallen firefighters, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News
Old glory proudly waving for the Memorial Dedication Service for fallen firefighters, Cedar City, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Kaleigh Bronson, St. George/Cedar City News

“The men and women that fight fires are not only national resources but national treasures.” Melton said. “We thank you (the families) for sharing them with us and America.”

Vickie Miner of the Wildlife Firefighter Foundation invited family members and friends to share impressions and memories of the captain and his co-pilot.

Paula Chambless, Ron’s mother, said ever since he was young, her son’s email username was “firepilot.” She spoke about how he loved flying and working as a co-pilot.

“The coordination of the memorial is turning a place of devastation into a place of peaceful renewal.” said Tompkins’ wife, Cassandra Cannon, who was joined by the couple’s three children. She also thanked the foundation and the Lone Peak Hotshot firefighters for “creating a legacy for my children and our family.”

ED. CORRECTION:  Chambless and Tompkins were pilots that flew for Neptune Aviation. They were not Hotshots – the Utah-based Lone Peak Hotshot crew coordinated the memorial.  Corrections made accordingly June 6, 2016.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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