Whit and I had the privilege of meeting this fine young man, he made quite an impression on us...... He will surely be missed by many.
A promising life cut short; Memorial service is Monday at Fort Worden for Andy Palmer, fallen firefighter
Janet Palmer stands in her son's bedroom, clutching a pair of thick books.
"This is what my son was reading on his own."
She holds out a volume containing Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, literary works dating to the days of ancient Greece; and The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu in China during the sixth century B.C.
These are classics, but not books a burly boy who loved football and his Dodge truck would be expected to read during the summer following high school graduation.
What people are learning now about Andrew Jackson Palmer are attributes his family has known for years.
"If there was a word for this kid, it would be integrity," says his mother.
When a young man, 18 going on 19 in September, dies tragically while on duty as a federal wildland firefighter, it draws national attention.
Here on the Olympic Peninsula, Andy's death is like a knife into the heart of both Port Angeles - where he was born and attended school through the eighth grade - and in Port Townsend, where he graduated with the Class of 2008.
"Andy's loss I think is felt equally in Port Angeles and Port Townsend," says Janet.
Although he moved here for high school, he kept close to his childhood friends in Port Angeles. He attended every high school dance here in PT, and there in PA.
Friends like classmate Christian DuBois, whom he met at his first PTHS football practice, made the transition from PA to PT easy.
"He was always happy," says Andy's dad. What makes a man
The Palmer family has three sons. Rob, now 27, is a federal wildland firefighter, and Henry, 22, is a merchant mariner. Andy, 18, wanted to study mechanical engineering in college. Although his father has a medical practice specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, both of Andy's grandfathers are engineers.
He had accepted a scholarship to Montana State University in Bozeman to study mechanical engineering. He was to start there Sept. 2.
The Palmers spent many years in Port Angeles. They enjoyed annual family camping trips. Although Andy always loved the outdoors, he is the son who loved to dine out, and he could recite the exact restaurant and specific meal that highlighted each family trip.
In the eighth grade he was reading philosophy, astronomy, physics and world history. Science was his favorite subject. Although Andy was a bright student and took advanced placement classes at PTHS, he wasn't in it for a high grade point average.
"He didn't need to do a good job and get a pat on the back," Bob says. "He was satisfied with himself."
Janet adds, "It didn't matter to him what grade was on the report card. He wanted the knowledge to his own satisfaction."
During the annual PTHS United Nations simulation this spring, he chose to represent the country of Iran. He threw himself into studying that controversial nation - certain to be picked on at the mock General Assembly - and was able to present more facts and figures than anyone imagined.
While he tackled serious subjects, he loved comedy. Andy could quote lines from motion pictures such as "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective" and "Blazing Saddles."
Janet recalls that while "he was hard to get out of bed in the morning," as are most teenagers, he was efficient in his use of time and effort. He had a good work ethic and had a variety of part-time jobs to earn spending money. Summer plans
Andy had big plans for this summer. On his own, he had booked a vacation home on Baja California in Mexico and had arranged for a group of friends to make the trip.
Meanwhile, he had decided he needed to earn more money this summer to fix up his turbo Dodge pickup truck for college. He applied for a National Park Service position as a volunteer, knowing he would get hazard pay if called out for wildfire duty.
"Andy's motivation was physical fitness, and money," father Bob says, although he liked being part of a team and knew he would feel that kinship with the firefighting crew.
Oldest brother Rob started as a volunteer backcountry ranger with the National Park Service and is currently fuels crew supervisor with Olympic National Park in Port Angeles. But Rob didn't lobby to help Andy get a job, says Larry Nickey, fire management officer for the park.
Nickey hired Andy on the young man's own merits. The only concern was whether the tall, husky lad could fit in the fire engine's cab.
"He was a great kid," says Nickey. "You couldn't ask for anybody to be more respectful, kind and funny."
As it turned out, another crewmember quit, so a paid position came up and Andy moved into that job.
That choice meant Andy had to give up the vacation trip to Mexico. Another friend took his airline ticket, and he went to work in the woods while his buddies went to the beach. Firefighting crew
Olympic National Park has three engine crews: One stationed in Port Angeles, one at Lake Crescent and one at Kalaloch. Andy was assigned to Engine 701 at Lake Crescent. His team members are chief John DeLuna, Kevin Mayfield, Albert Bairnier and Jeremy Johnson of Port Hadlock.
Andy completed 80 hours of training that included learning how to handle the pumps and hoses on the Type 3 wildland truck, which has a 500-gallon tank and 350-gallon-per-minute pump. Andy obtained his "red card" fire skill rating and his Class A sawyer (timber faller) rating.
Andy bunked with some parks employees, including Johnson, at Lake Crescent. He got his first firefighting experience at a small blaze that broke out on Lake Crescent's north side near the Devil's Punchbowl. But he was eager for more. California bound
The Olympic National Park crews rotate to other wildfires anywhere in the United States, as needed. Engine 501 went to Oregon, and then Engine 701 was called to help out in Northern California.
"He was [in Port Townsend] when he got the call" to get ready for a trip to California, Janet says. "He was floating on cloud nine," Bob notes. His mom prepared a bag of cookies while Andy packed his gear, and she drove him to Port Angeles.
The crew left Tuesday evening, July 22, for the drive to California, where they arrived Thursday, July 24. Andy called home Thursday night. He also talked on the phone with his brother Rob, whose crew was just finishing its duty about 30 miles away and was heading back to Washington.
Northern California is in the midst of the worst wildfire season in memory. Some fires have been burning for a month. Fortunately, not many homes had been burned - only because the fires have mostly been in intensely rugged backcountry.
Andy's crew was assigned to the Eagle Fire, part of the Iron Complex fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Lightning apparently caused the blaze on June 21. Friday, July 25 was their first day on the fire line. The accident
According to unofficial reports, the crew was working along a bulldozed fire line about 2,000 feet from a road. They were along the southwest flank of the Eagle Fire near Junction City but were not in an active fire zone. The crew's job was to "snag hazard trees" in advance of ground crews doing fire mop-up duty.
The family has been told that Andy was in a safety zone. A tree was cut downhill from his position. It slid downhill and springboarded into another tree, which caused a third tree to flip back uphill. That flying missile struck Palmer, breaking his left leg and right shoulder, according to family members. The same debris nearly struck Jeremy Johnson.
"It was an unanticipated chain reaction," Bob Palmer says.
The accident occurred about 2:20 p.m. Friday. Andy received emergency first aid at the scene. Smoke was thick, but a U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter from Arcata made it to the mountain spot about 50 air miles from the city of Redding. The copter lowered a rescue basket, and hoisted Andy aboard.
A valiant effort, but Andy died about 5:10 p.m. aboard the helicopter, according to a Shasta-Trinity National Forest official.
The family has been told the cause of death was cardiac arrest probably brought on by internal bleeding from a multitude of injuries.
The last words Andy spoke before being hoisted to the helicopter were to the effect of "Tell my family I love them." Grievous loss
Firefighting is a hazardous job - that's why crews get hazard pay. Olympic National Park has not lost a crewmember at a fire in more than 30 years. Andy's death was the first this summer in Northern California.
"Each and every member of the firefighting community feels a tragedy of this type," Shasta-Trinity National Forest Supervisor Sharon Heywood told reporter Constance Dillon of the Redding Record Searchlight. "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Andrew, who selflessly served to protect," she said.
The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration assembled an accident investigation board to report on Palmer's death.
"Andy was a dedicated and energetic firefighter who loved his job. We are all very sad, and our thoughts are with his family and the rest of the firefighters on this fire," Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin said. "We mourn Andy's death and offer our support and deepest condolences to his family."
The rest of Palmer's crew was flown back to Port Angeles on Saturday. A critical incident stress management team came to Olympic National to provide support and assistance to the park's fire crew and staff. Some also visited with the Palmer family.
In honor and memory of Andy Palmer's life, flags in all National Park Service areas throughout the six-state Pacific West Region will fly at half-staff until further notice.
A fund will be established by the Wildland Firefighter Foundation in Palmer's name. The foundation is online at http://wffoundation.org/ and can be contacted by calling 877-336-2950.
The Redding Record Searchlight reported that the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Abigail Kimbell, on a visit to Redding on Saturday, was visibly shaken by Palmer's death. She praised his courage and that of other firefighters battling California's unprecedented wildland fires. A second death
Washington lost both a rookie firefighter and a veteran. Daniel Packer, 49, of Lake Tapps, Wash. - fire chief of East Pierce County Fire & Rescue - died Saturday while working on the Panther Fire south of Happy Camp in Siskiyou County. Packer, considered one of the nation's experts on wildfires, was scouting a fire scene in preparation for taking over local command. The wind changed, and the fire blew up and over him, according to reports. He and another firefighter each deployed their emergency shelters. The other man survived, with injuries, but Packer did not. Packer is immediate past president of the Washington Fire Chiefs Association. Johnson family
Back home, the Palmer family has been buoyed by family and friends.
One of the first visits was from Jeremy Johnson, Andy's friend and crewmate. Jeremy also got the news that his older brother, Jarred, was injured July 25 while working as a special Forest Service firefighter on a blaze near Wenatchee, Wash. Jarred has been released from the hospital, according to unofficial reports. Family and friends
The firefighting fraternity has already rallied around the Palmers and will continue to do so.
Janet and Bob are dealing with the tragedy as well as can be expected. They take some comfort knowing that neither Andy nor his crewmates did anything wrong - it was a freak accident under hazardous conditions.
They are worried about Andy's brothers and friends, and they want Andy to be remembered.
A public memorial service and celebration of Andy's life is set for 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 4 at McCurdy Pavilion in Fort Worden State Park. Expect hundreds of people to attend: family, friends, associates and emergency services personnel.
The Andy Palmer Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established to create a lasting tribute to a young man who cared for his family, his school, his friends and his community.
(Patrick J. Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)