Photos by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star
LEFT: Don Haskvitz, left, accepts a plaque honoring his son Trampus from Jay Esperance, the Director of S.D. Wildland Fire during a ceremony held Aug. 11 near the site where Trampus died fighting the Coal Canyon Fire north of Edgemont 10 years.
By Brett Nachtigall
EDGEMONT – Looking out at his many friends and family, as well as the dozens of local, state and federal firefighters who had gathered for a memorial ceremony near the site of his son Trampus’s death 10 years ago, Don Haskvitz of Edgemont said the only words he could think of when seeing them all is that, “It hurts so good.”
“When I drove up here, it was like it just happened again, but yet, my family and I, and my friends that are here, are so honored,” Don said, shortly after accepting a plaque presented to him from the South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire.
The memorial was held about 10 miles north of Edgemont along Elbow Canyon Road, last Wednesday, Aug. 11, which was 10 years ago to the day, when Trampus Haskvitz, age 23, died while fighting the Coal Canyon Fire. The fire eventually burned 5,214 acres and injured four other firefighters.
More than 100 people were in attendance at last week’s event, which featured around 50 fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from a wide variety of Black Hills area agencies. A number of guest speakers addressed the Haskvitz family prior to the plaque presentation, including the current Director of S.D. Wildland Fire Jay Esperance and Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Public Safety Craig Price.
During Don’s address to the attendees who had gathered last week to remember his son, he recalled the words spoken to him 10 years ago by his friend Col. Kim Henningsen.
“I remember his words, that ‘Good things are going to become of this.’ He said that to me about two hours after it happened,” Don said, as he remembered how at the time he felt those words didn’t seem appropriate, especially coming from one of his best friends.
“But now, 10 years later, I could be up here for at least a case of beer talking about the good things that have happened,” Don said with a smile which soon turned to tears as he began mentioning just a few of those good things. “We have a couple here that met and got married because of it. We’ve been blessed with many things and many new friends.”
Don then read a letter which Trampus wrote to his grandmother after she passed away on Sept. 22, 2010 – about one year prior to when Trampus passed away.
“You are an angel now. I can still see your smile. You won’t be forgotten, that is for sure,” Trampus wrote as part of his letter to his grandmother. “I will leave you with this. Someday we will be reunited and we will pick up right where we left off.”
Ben Haskvitz, the oldest brother of Trampus, also came to the microphone towards the end of the ceremony and first thanked all those in attendance – especially to the firefighters – and then spoke about his brother.
“I said it at his funeral and I’ll say it again today,” Ben stated. “I emulate Trampus because of his character, heart, commitment to family and his community that will forever go unmatched in my eyes. I was the older brother but I continue to look up to Trampus and strive to replicate his passion of life. I also look up to him in Heaven for support and comfort. And still, he never lets me down and I know others have done the same, he doesn’t let them down either.”
Ben went on to say that as time has passed, people have told him “Time heals all wounds.”
“That is probably the worst advice I’ve ever been given,” Ben said. “Nothing will heal this loss. Things help, but Trampus’s loss is still fresh and it should stay that way. Keeping your wounds open doesn’t make you weak or less. It means he’s still an important part of my life, my family’s life, friends’ lives and firefighters’ lives. It’s a daily reminder to wake up with an attitude that’s going to elevate your life and the people around you.”
“Trampus once told me, ‘Wake up, clap three times and say today is going to be a beautiful day!’” Ben recalled. “I’ve shared this advice with many of my friends. Trampus lives on in his words and his actions.”
Prior to the Haskvitz family speaking, Jay Esperance with S.D. Wildland Fire asked those in the audience to also think about the 2,569 firefighters who were on the ground battling fires all across the western states that day. He also asked attendees to think about everyone involved in fighting fires including the aviation forces, and then reminded everyone about the four airman lost in a fire one year after Coal Canyon and not far away from the where Trampus lost his life in 2011.
In regards to the Coal Canyon Fire, Esperance said, “I want you think about the survivors and also I want you think about those who bravely went in to rescue and eventually recover. Many of these folks are in our crowd today. Thank you very much.”
“But, the reason we are here today is to honor Trampus,” Esperance said. “Trampus paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, for the State of South Dakota, and for our citizens. And I want to share with Mr. and Mrs. Haskvitz, I promise, we’ll never forget.”
Craig Price, the Cabinet Secretary for the S.D. Department of Public Safety – of which the Division of Wildland Fire has been a part since earlier this spring – was on hand to speak and also read letters from then-Governor Dennis Daugaard and current Governor Kristi Noem.
“Both of them remember the tragic event that brings us here today and they ask that their thoughts be shared with you,” Price stated.
In his letter read by Sec. Price, former Gov. Daugaard said, “Today we honor the courage and sacrifice of Trampus and we renew our commitment to remember him and his family, here in these beautiful Black Hills we all love so much. Today we also celebrate the courage and sacrifice of those who remain, and who stand ready, every day, to protect our community from the dangers of wildland fire.”
In her letter read by Sec. Price, current Gov. Noem said, “Firefighters exemplify the best attributes of our humanity as they rush towards danger without thought of their own personal safety. That was what Trampus did 10 years ago. He went out there to protect people and property. Sadly, he never returned.”
“But today, and every day, we honor Trampus and all of those who have come after him,” Gov. Noem wrote. “They are always there for us. The plaque being unveiled today will stand in memory of what Trampus did here. It will serve as a reminder of his service and sacrifice.”
Sec. Price then shared his own thoughts on the work of the Division of Wildland Fire and their dedication to protecting people and property, which is what he said Trampus was doing 10 years ago when he and his fellow crew members were fighting the Coal Canyon Fire near Edgemont. He then quoted the investigative report that was done following the fire which claimed Haskvitz’s life.
“Many decisions and actions on the Coal Canyon Fire were manifestly heroic; demonstrating the best of wildland fire professionalism,” he said.
Two plaques were created to honor Trampus’s memory. One was placed at the site of his death and the other was presented to the family at the ceremony. Both have the followed words engraved on them:
On August 11, 2011, Trampus Haskvitz lost his life while fighting the Coal Canyon Fire. This monument is in honor of the ultimate sacrifice he paid in the line of duty.
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s own life for one’s friends”