Hello, my name is Pam Walrath, maiden name Barger. I am a former wildland firefighter from 1987 – 1992 on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. I grew up with an uncle that was a Phoenix Firefighter, and every time I heard a fire truck I knew that is what I wanted to do. I fulfilled that dream by going through the Phoenix Fire Academy as a cadet while in high school and became a volunteer structural firefighter for Greer Fire District and Eagar Fire Department while I lived in the White Mountains. During my seasons as a wildland firefighter I saw a lot of fire activity with my most memorable detail spending 22 days in Yellowstone National Park in 1988 on a fire that burnt 1.2 million acres of the park. I turned 21 there in the Grizzly Habitat Area and was so surprised when 200 of my brotherhood sang me happy birthday and presented me with a card and Yellowstone ball cap. Being one of two women on this fire – ya some tears were shed and I’m ok admitting it.
It was very challenging trying to get a full time appointment with the Forest Service so I turned my eyes on the medical field to become a Nurse and attended Grand Canyon University which soon turned out revealing to me that I was not quite cut out for that field. I continued my medical assistant position with Dr. Okky Oei in Scottsdale Arizona in his pain management clinic until he moved onto other ventures and I literally stumbled into the Environmental field in 1994. For the last 23 years I have devoted my passions and career to helping abolish lead poisoning in target housing in the Phoenix area and consult for asbestos and lead based paint abatement projects throughout the State of Arizona. Eight years of my career was spent as the Asbestos and Lead Program Manager for Arizona State University – managing their 1,149 facilities for asbestos and lead containing materials and the abatements that occurred for the four ASU campuses.
On June 30th, 2013 when I heard the news cast of the missing 19 wildland firefighters – my palms immediately began to sweat as a flurry of past fire experiences flashed through my head when I heard they had to deploy shelters. My prayers were, like I imagine, many watching the same newscast - that they are safe and they come home tonight. My heart sank when I heard they didn’t. Tears flowed for 19 men I didn’t know but where a part of the brotherhood I once was a part of and will never lose that connection to. I found myself driving from my home in Gilbert up to Prescott not long after the tragedy to “see” what I may be able to do? Drawn to participate or help in something – albeit I had no idea what I was going to or how to get to it. I literally just drove and prayed to God to guide me. I saw a Prescott fireman and asked if they had any fundraisers going on for the Granite Mountain Hotshots and he literally directed me to a car show across the street. I walked around with my camera not knowing what I was called to do but started snapping pictures and meeting some of the volunteers of the event. I asked if any family members where at the event and I was introduced to Tom Ashcraft that day. He graciously shared with me for about an hour about Andrew. Tom directed me to Station 7 where the memorial fence was and that is where I also ran into Juliann Ashcraft, Andrew’s widow, whom was leaving from a different event.
Since those connections where made that day I have been blessed to meet so many beautiful people that have devoted their time, money, blood, sweat and tears to honoring the men and their families.
I am honored to be a part of the Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute and their mission of Wildland Firefighter safety!