Following is a first person account of the hugely successful National Fire Dog Monument’s journey form Denver, Colorado to Washington DC from American Humane Association’s own Scott Sowers. This is the first of six installments.
From Denver to DC: The National Fire Dog Monument Tour
By Scott Sowers
One of the coolest assignments in my career was a 2,000-mile journey with the National Fire Dog Monument (NFDM) Road Show from Denver, Colorado to our nation’s capital, Washington, DC.
The convoy made stops in a number of the country’s largest cities, including Chicago, Indianapolis, and New York City, while touching several state capitals along the way, such as Topeka, Jefferson City, Springfield, Columbus, Harrisburg, and Trenton. The mission of the tour is simple: to show off this important monument to as many Americans across our country as possible before it is delivered and mounted at its final destination, Fire Station 3 in Washington. This station counts the United States Capitol Building in its jurisdiction and is also the home of the DC Fire and EMS Museum.
American Humane Association and State Farm Insurance sponsored both the NFDM Tour and the effort to get the statue created in the first place. State Farm has provided funding since 1993 for the acquisition and training of more than 300 arson dog teams in 44 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and the District of Columbia. They are the only company in North America that provides scholarships for arson dog training. State Farm underwrites the costs to train arson dog teams because arson is a serious problem for everyone in society our and law enforcement officials need every tool possible to combat this costly and deadly crime. Nearly all of the canines acquired through the State Farm Arson Dog Program are obtained through animal shelters, companion programs for the disabled, or guide dog programs. Their program gives these dogs a second chance at work and life – everyone benefits.
There are numerous monuments dedicated to the brave work of our firefighters, but the National Fire Dog Monument is the first of its kind to pay tribute to the four-legged heroes who also work in firehouses as arson investigators. The monument is the brainchild of Jerry Means, an arson investigator for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Jerry’s name might sound familiar to you because his partner since 2007, Sadie, took home the honors of Law Enforcement/Arson Dog of the Year in our inaugural American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards™ last year. His previous partner, Erin, was the first arson dog in the state of Colorado, and together they helped bring numerous arsonists to justice. Erin passed away in 2010, and Jerry wanted honor her legacy by creating a tribute to all the dogs who risk their lives every day in the line of duty.
After years of tireless fundraising efforts, Jerry finally had the funds he needed to commission the monument. He found a Colorado sculptor named Austin Weishel to take on the project. Austin, a firefighter himself, poured all his considerable talents into sculpting and casting this masterpiece – nearly 1,500 man-hours in all. The final monument truly exhibits the powerful bond between a firefighter and his dog. Hero Dog Ambassador Sadie served as the canine model for the statue, with a colleague of Austin representing her human counterpart in the piece. This bronze cast, weighing in at over 450 pounds, is truly magnificent and has produced gasps and tears among those who saw it on our first day in Denver.
We began the morning at JeffCo Stadium next to Jerry’s office at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. A large crowd of coworkers, firefighters, policemen, and others were there to see the tour officially begin. An official police motorcade actually cleared the way to the Colorado State Capitol in downtown Denver as the 78-foot tractor-trailer holding the monument and the tour’s RV made their way through the streets of the Mile High City. Following setup on the West Steps of the Capitol, the show began. It was the perfect backdrop: two fire trucks raised their ladders to drape a giant American flag, which stood in the shadow of the gold dome of the Capitol itself. As a special treat, two members of Governor John Hickenlooper’s office read aloud a proclamation from the governor declaring June 21, 2012 as Arson Dog Day in Colorado.
Following our visit to the state capitol, we put the Rocky Mountains in our rearview mirror and said hello to the vast prairies of Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas as we set out for our overnight stop in Hays, Kansas. Along the way we received a surprise phone call from the chief of the Hays Fire Department, who said he and his colleagues would love nothing more than to greet us when we made it to town. Unbeknownst to us, the State Fire Marshall’s Office had communicated to him that we would be spending the night in his town. When we arrived he told us how humbled he was that not only did we build such a monument, but that we were bringing it through his town. But truly it was our crew who was humbled by the welcome we got in this proud Kansas town.
In just our first two stops, two became clear to me: people want to ascend the ramp and look at the intricate detail in the statue (including Sadie’s and Erin’s names if you look closely) and they want the chance to meet a true hero, Sadie, who seems to love the attention she’s getting as the star of the show.