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Granite Mountain Hotshot's memory lives on through association giving back to future firefighters

The Kevin Woyjeck Explorers for Life Association helps young men and women in their pursuit to be a firefighter
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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 30, 2023

Friday marks 10 years since 19 Granite Mountain hotshots were killed battling the Yarnell Hill Fire. Since that day, many of their families have pushed for change and used their memory to give back.

Joe Woyjeck says he can now smile through the tears when thinking about his son, Kevin. He says Kevin was an energetic, sometimes goofy, and focused 21-year-old who looked up to his dad and his long career as a Los Angeles firefighter.

"He said, 'Dad, I want to be a hotshot,' so I helped him figure out how to be a hotshot," Joe said. "His goal was to work for the LA County Fire Department and follow in my footsteps, but we wanted to make sure he earned that ride and not just riding his dad's coattail into the fire service."

While Joe was in California, he kept constant communication with Kevin in Arizona and remembers the last time they spoke.

"(Kevin said), we got a fire in Yarnell, we're getting ready to head out, it should be no big deal,'" Joe said. "We got to say, 'I love you' and 'talk to you later.'"

Joe says he used the app Find My Friends to track his location. While he knew where Kevin was, he didn't know the devastation that would soon follow.

"We were notified there was a burn over. I called his phone with no response. I'm sure others were calling their loved ones too but never got a response," Joe said.

Not long after that day, the decision was made to turn pain into progress. The family created the Kevin Woyjeck Explorers for Life Association, helping young men and women in their pursuit to be a firefighter. The family says the association has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to departments across the country.

Joe says his story is not just about Kevin, but the 18 other hotshots, their families, their accomplishments, and their memory. He now looks forward to the future and the progress to be made.

"I look forward to better firefighter safety. I know that they're working on satellite tracking and I know there's technologies there," he said. "I hope the roadblocks that are out there are able to be navigated so crew tracking and the technology that's available is used and becomes affordable, and that people understand that we need to know where our crews are at all times."

Joe is working alongside Prescott Charities, asking that everyone give 19 seconds of silence at 4:42 p.m. on June 30 — the time the 19 hotshots died.

A memorial will be held at 3 p.m. in Prescott at the Yavapai County Courthouse.

For those who cannot make it to Prescott, there will also be memorials at the Los Angeles County Fire Museum in Bellflower, California, and the Hall of Flame Fire Museum in Phoenix.