After 66 years, SSL volunteer firefighter honored
Feb 05, 2020 01:42PM
● By Bill Hardesty
Son George Jr. (on the right) discussing his father with Chief Eric Sloan. (Courtesy of Lyndsie Hauck)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
Assistant Fire Chief George Plant, one of the original 10 volunteer firefighters in South Salt Lake, was killed fighting a structure fire on June 14, 1953. He suffered a heart attack while working on a faulty pumper.
"He saved many firefighters lives because he kept the water pumping," Captain Lyndsie Hauck, Captain B Platoon at Station 43 South Salt Lake Fire Department, commented.
Why is a death that occurred over 66 years ago news now? Even though he is the only firefighter who died in the line of duty for SSL, Plant never received any national recognition of his sacrifice. That oversight is now corrected thanks to the work led by Hauck.
For a long time, the only evidence of Plant's death was on an old DVD found by Chief Eric Sloan, Battalion Chief Training. On the DVD, retirees are talking over coffee and an "old timer" says, "George died in that fire." The DVD cuts to a picture of the Maltese Cross with LODD 1953 across it. LODD stands for Line of Duty Death and the Maltese Cross is the symbol used by firefighters indicating they are willing to lay down their life for another person.
There is also a plaque at station 41, the fire department headquarters, honoring him. But that was all.
The thin red line that ties current firefighters with former firefighters was evident in Hauck's quest to get national recognition for Plant.
In the fall of 2018, Hauck, who is the first female captain of the department, went back to the National Fire Academy in Maryland for some training. She had some free time, so she visited the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial located on the campus. All firefighters who died before 1981 are listed as part of Project Roll Call. Hauck checked, but Plant was not listed.
She then checked with the staff of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) who also couldn't find the name. Hauck asked what it will take to have Plant listed. Hauck needed to find evidence like a death certificate and proof of a Line of Duty Death and tie them together to get the recognition.
Hauck returned to Salt Lake with a mission. She and her crew started to dig for information. They went through piles of documents but found nothing. They decided to do a Hail Mary pass by posting their request on Facebook.
Soon pieces started to fall into place. A former SLC firefighter contacted them with a copy of a small newspaper clipping indicating that Plant did die while on duty. By doing a record search they found his grave.
Someone also sent a phone number saying that it might be George Jr.'s phone number. Hauck called it for a week with great excitement, but all it would do is go to voicemail and, worst of all, the mailbox was full.
After shopping, Hauck called one more time and someone answered the phone.
"I was so surprised that I rattled off who I was and why I was calling very quickly. The man on the phone replied, 'Young lady. You caught me on the way to see a doctor that I cannot miss. Please call me at three this afternoon.' Finally, some contact," Hauck said.
She called at three but again it went to voicemail. They played phone tag for four days.
On the fifth day, a woman answered the phone. It was George Jr.'s daughter, Plant's granddaughter, Lori. Hauck explained why she was calling, and Lori agreed to confirm the event with her father. She called back with confirmation.
Sloan's wife was able to find the death certificate which indicated the day and the death location as the burning building. This tied it all together.
"This was truly a group effort," Hauck said.
Barbecue and other honors
B Platoon hosted the Plant family to a barbecue at Station 43. Because of a variety of reasons, the date for the event kept getting adjusted until June 14, 2019. Sixty-six years from the day of Plant's death.
Hauck presented their findings to the NFFF and, on July 3, 2019, Plant was added to Project Roll Call.
"It was a happy day when I got that email," Hauck said.
In addition, SSL Fire was able to do a Last Call Ceremony for Plant. A bell is rung three times and his name "Chief Plant" is spoken. The bell is again rung three times, but his name is spoken in a more deliberate and more formal fashion. Finally, the bell is rung three more times and his name is spoken again in a deliberate and formal manner.
Chief Terry Addison and Assistant Chief Roger Hoffman presented the Final Alarm medal to Plant's children, George Jr. and Joyce Plant.
"The tears on their faces showed how much the medal meant to them," Hauck remembered.