Memorial service honors 3 fallen firefighters, including West Michigan native

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WENATCHEE, Wash. (KCPQ/WXMI) — Several thousand people gathered Sunday to honor three U.S. Forest Service firefighters killed battling wildfires in Washington state.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in a eulogy says the three dedicated their lives to protecting national forests and the communities around them, and for that everyone should be grateful.

The memorial service for 20-year-old Tom Zbyszewski, 26-year-old Andrew Zajac, and 31-year-old Richard Wheeler was at the Toyota Center about 90 miles south of where they died in Twisp on Aug. 19.

Richard Wheeler

Richard Wheeler and wife.

Wheeler, a career firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, was from South Haven — and had deep ties with fighting fires in the area.

More than 80 vehicles took part in a procession leading to the memorial service Sunday where more than 100 firefighters stood at attention.

Dozens of civilians also took part, many holding U.S. flags and others with signs that said “You are heroes!”

Officials said the three died when their truck crashed down a 40-foot embankment as they tried to escape the fast-growing wildfire and flames consumed their vehicle. All three lived in north-central Washington.

Another firefighter, 25-year-old Daniel Lyon, was upgraded to serious condition on Saturday after sustaining burns over 60 percent of his body.

Lyon was one of four firefighters injured when flames overtook them on Aug. 19. The other three injured firefighters have been treated and released.

Meanwhile, The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has set up the Twisp River Fallen Firefighters Fund to help honor the three Okanogan-area firefighters who died.

Money donated to the fund will go to help the families, friends and colleagues of the men who died trying to protect this state. Money will also go to the survivors of the blaze, as they could need help for years to come.

Donated funds will be used to help the survivors and coworkers as they begin to rebuild their lives and support the programs and services they will need, promised Chief Ronald Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

For more on the Twisp River Fallen Firefighters Fund, click here.

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