Prescott Unified School District buses obtained special permission from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to honor 19 local firefighters who died during a recent wildfire with commemorative placards.
Bus driver Steve Hoppes approached Director of Transportation Norma Frye and asked if the district could place a sticker up on the inside of the bus that memorialized the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting team, who perished wihile battling the Yarnell Hill fire south of town on June. 30. Frye and fellow driver Shawn Vastine then talked about permanent placement and how could they might be able to make it happen. The project was close to Vastine's heart, as two of his friends, one of them since kindergarten, were Hotshots who died in the fire, so he spearheaded the design. Meanwhile, Frye petitioned Patricia Martinez in the DPS school transportation section for a speical waiver, as the agency must OK any permanent fixtures added to the school vehicles or equipment.
At first, DPS denied the request, but about a week later Frye said she received a call back asking for the dimensions. But there were none, as the placard did not yet exist. This put Vastine in motion finding a local vendor that could create a prototype of the shield listing the 19 firefighters' names.
As DPS reviewed more pictures of the shield, Frye said she received approval from district Superintendent David Smucker and also from the fire department. She even asked Chief Darrell Willis of the Prescott Fire Department's Wildland Division to place the first placard on the bus, once the DPS authorized it. On Sept. 9, Willis did just that - on Vastine's bus No. 27.
"It took a long time (to receive approval), but it was well worth it," Frye told STN. "We are getting calls thanking us for honoring them. I am just grateful I could do it."
Frye added that the commemorative placards also adorn the district's white fleet.
Some local news reports indicated that DPS approved a new memorial license plate. But a source with knowledge of the state's licensing process clarified for STN that the placards used in Prescott are actually vanity plates that differ from government issued license plates with registered numbers issued by the Arizona Department of Transportation. The Prescott school buses must still display normal license plates in addition to being allowed by DPS to display the vanity signage, and they are the only school buses in the state allowed to do so.
In related news, an Arizona legislative committee reportedly will hear a proposal to give full survivor benefits to relatives of the part-time members of the 19-man firefighting crew. Additionally, Prescott Unified named Vastine one of its Transportation Employees of the Month for helping to reorganize the bus parking for better use of the facility, assigning specific buses to particular routes to best utilize each bus's capabilities and restructuring routes to be efficient. Vastine joined Prescott Unified at the start of the 2013 calendar year.