Honoring The Fallen
The Challenges of Public Memorial Planning
By Meghaun Campbell
When firefighters pass away in the line of duty, their department and their community want to offer them a fitting tribute. One way communities and departments choose to commemorate their fallen heroes is a public memorial. Unfortunately, establishing a public memorial can be a long and arduous process. It requires flexibility, dedication, and determination on the part of the planners.
Retired firefighter and sculptor, Paul Olesniewicz, is keenly aware of this. It took ten years of planning and hard work to complete the firefighters’ memorial for the community he served in Tucson, Arizona. Paul now works with other communities to overcome the hurdles of conceiving and constructing memorials for their fallen heroes.
The first hurdle that memorial planners face, Paul says, is knowledge base. Memorials often involve bronze sculptures. The how-to of designing and purchasing a bronze statue are not common knowledge. His involvement in the Tucson Firefighters’ Memorial started, in part, because he is in the unique position of being intimately familiar with both firefighting and art sculptures. “Someone will call and say they need a statue but they don’t know much about it. I give them as much information as I can. ” Paul also uses his website www.911sculpture.com to educate interested people on bronze sculptures, how they are made, how to install them, and how to care for them.
While lack of knowledge is a hurdle, the major issue communities face in planning memorial projects generally boils down to one: money. “I had someone ask me one time what is the most important thing in my artwork,” Paul says. “They were looking for something esoteric but to be honest, it’s money. These people are looking for something to represent the person who was killed trying to help out their community, but yet they have to raise the money all themselves. You are asking small communities to raise large amounts of money.” To help reduce the amount of money the community needs to raise, Paul has developed several cost reducing methods. One method is designing smaller sculptures and enhancing them by placing them on pedestals. He also developed several series sculptures because custom pieces can be more expensive from start to finish. “If you do a series, some of the costs are spread over ten pieces or so.”
Memorial planners also need to develop a memorial that sets the right tone and feeling for the community. Paul tries to address the emotional needs of fellow firefighters, family, and community members of the fallen firefighter with each of his sculptures. “I want something that is representational and realistic and hopefully, emotionally they feel good about it. You want something that, emotionally, firefighters and family members can feel attached.”
Ideally, no firefighter would fall in the line of duty. Sadly, this is not the case. The best communities can do is establish a way for a firefighter’s sacrifice to not be forgotten. The Tucson Firefighters’ Memorial is a testament to Paul’s dedication to remembering his fallen comrades. It was also a valuable learning experience for him as he dedicates himself to helping other communities create their own memorials for their firefighters.