BLYTHEVILLE, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Fallen Firefighters' Memorial was moved to Blytheville Saturday afternoon, as part of its 12-city tour through the state. The bronze statue will be the centerpiece of an eventual memorial to be built at the state capitol.
"The Capital Arts and Grounds Commission has the sole authority over the construction of memorials. We can't dig until we show them the money. Right now we're 65-percent funded," said Johnny Reep.
Reep helped move the 6,000 pound statue with the help of various police and fire agencies within Mississippi County.
"People in Arkansas care about public safety officers. They put their lives on the line of duty, and people do care and remember," said Reep.
The statue, which stands 16 feet tall, is worth $301,170. It has been paid for through hundreds of small donations. However, the memorial site needs more money in order to operate. The memorial plaza will cost $683,020. To donate, click here.
Reep said 94 firefighters have been killed in the line of duty since the early 1800's. Fire officials are investigating two other fatalities. Since the memorial project began in 1985, 27 Arkansas firefighters have been killed while on the job.
"Firefighters and police officers go out and respond no matter what conditions so it's time to say here is your tribute, family members your loved ones are engraved forever," said Reep.
"They're trying to save someone's life or property, and in the process they lose their own life," said Blytheville Fire Chief Ivory Diamond.
Diamond has been head of the Blytheville Fire Department for nearly a year and he's been in the business for 29 years.
Diamond said the statue's meaning trumps its beauty.
"It's such a majestic figure and it really grabs the individual's spirit just knowing the cause of the statue being built," said Diamond.
"I was talking to a fireman from Steele, Arkansas, or Steele, Missouri, and he was telling me how honored he was to stand in the presence of this statue," said Diamond.
"The statue is on a 12 city tour and we were invited to Blytheville by Chief Diamond, and what a thrill it was to be invited up here because today in Marion we had a very special, touching reunion with Beaver Hutchinson, whose brother Ed was killed, may 8, 1997 when the bps chemical plant exploded, he was moved to tears, that had brought it all back to him, so this is what the memorial is about, telling the families that their loved ones names will not be forgotten," said Reep.
"When you lose a loved one because they're trying to help someone else, it really kind of takes the natural death out of context, because this individual was a sacrifice, trying to save someone else's life," said Diamond. "It's a big deal to us because the individuals that caused this idea to be born were what we call LODD's. It stands for line of duty death firefighters and it's because of them that this whole program started."