- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (AP) - It took 28 years and Paula Haskins’ artistic ability to create a memorial dedicated to Arkansas firefighters.

The memorial, which cost more than $1.2 million to build and maintain, was dedicated near the state Capitol in Little Rock on March 22. Haskins, a Lawrence County native, designed the statues in the memorial more than a decade ago, she said.

“I’m really proud that I had a part in this piece of history,” Haskins told The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1lQo8lv). “My grandchildren will go to the Capitol some day and they’ll see it.”

Haskins has always loved to draw, she said. Her husband, Alan, was a longtime firefighter who served as the fire chief for the city of Walnut Ridge.

A statewide committee was formed nearly three decades ago to collect funds to build a firefighter memorial. The goal was to erect a memorial to honor firefighters who’ve died in the line of duty.

In 1996, Walnut Ridge firefighter Jim Gates joined the committee.

A few years later the committee decided they needed a visual representation of what the committee hoped to achieve. Gates thought of Haskins and her artistic talents, he said.

There was only one problem.

Haskins said she could draw anything, but she needed some guidance as to what they wanted. A series of posed photographs depicting several different firefighters were taken.

One showed a woman firefighter rushing a child to safety. Another showed a firefighter from a bygone era tackling a blaze. Haskins settled on four firefighters in her drawings.

Her rendition was mass produced, and print copies were sold to raise money for the project. Even as money was being raised from various fundraisers, other problems surfaced, Gates said.

The memorial was originally slated to be built in Camden. But later it was decided the state Capitol would be more appropriate. Several sites were considered.

The state Legislature had to authorize the construction, and the committee had to raise enough money to not only build it, but to pay for its upkeep and maintenance, Gates said.

Jumping through bureaucratic hoops was tough, but the project was finally approved.

“It was a relief to finally see it completed,” Gates said. “We wanted to honor the families of the fallen and recognize those who lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Name plates of the fallen will be placed on the memorial. Trumann Fire Chief Rick Winkles, who died while fighting a blaze earlier this year, has a plate on the memorial, Gates said.

Haskins’ connection to the firefighting community is deep. For many years her husband fought fires, and he is now the director of the Fire Science Academy at Black River Technical College.

Alan Haskins still serves as a reserve firefighter in his hometown. Haskins tries not to worry about her husband when he’s away trying to save lives or property.

“I always try to stay optimistic that something like that will never happen,” she said. “But you never know.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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