Local firefighters react to Arizona fire deaths

By Roger Sadler

July 2, 2013 Updated Jan 2, 2014 at 5:34 PM CDT

NORMAL, Ill. -- Monday night, all across our nation, people mourned the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona.

They died Sunday battling a wildfire northwest of Phoenix. It was the worst loss for a fire department since September 11, 2001.

Here in Central Illinois, the news hit local firefighters hard. However, they did their best to learn from the tragedy.

The 19 men who died were known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. They were elite firefighters who gave their lives battling the huge blaze.

On Monday President Obama called them heroes.

"This is one more reminder of the fact that our first responders," said Obama, "they put their lives on the line every single day."

At local fire stations on Monday, it was a day to mourn. Matt Swaney, Public Information Officer for the Normal Fire Department, said it was a difficult day.

At the same time, Swaney said firefighters will try to learn from the tragedy.

"We ask, if we were in that situation, could we have done anything different," said Swaney, "Is there anything we can do in the future to make sure it doesn't happen to us?"

Firefighters in Normal feel very fortunate. Swaney said they have never had a work-related death but incidents like the ones in Arizona are always in the backs of their minds.

"At times we don't like to think about it," Swaney said. "It's not pleasant. When our guys come into work here in the morning, we don't know if we're going to go home at night."

Swaney said about 80 firefighters are killed each year in America. He said 68 have already died in 2013, and it's only July.

"It's something that a lot of other professions don't have to deal with on a daily basis,but unfortunately we do," said Swaney.

Firefighters at the Normal Fire Department will remember the 19 men who died.

Swaney said that if he and others learn better fire safety because of this, those 19 deaths will not be in vain.

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