Project comes together after years of dreaming and dozens of design plans
By Penelope Soldan
Oklahoma Firefighter Editor
Jim Minx and Shahla Rahimi Reynolds were at the dedication ceremony for the Oklahoma Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial on June 8, 2000.
Their dedication to the project, however, began way before that.
For Minx, who retired from the Oklahoma City Fire Department in 1983 after 20 years of service, building a memorial was on his mind when he became Executive Director of the OSFA in 1988.
And he got serious about it a few years after that. In fact, he and OSFA President David Bain decided on a date to consecrate the ground for the memorial, and that act was the grand finale of Bain’s 100th Convention in June 1994.
“We sprinkled holy water on the hill where it was going to be built,” Minx said. “We didn’t have the money yet, but we were looking at designs.”
Reynolds, who has a bachelor’s degree in graphic advertising design from the University of Central Oklahoma and a master’s degree in studio art from Oklahoma City University, heard about the nationwide search for Oklahoma’s Firefighter Memorial.
And she was serious about the project from the start. Her husband James, after all, was an Oklahoma City firefighter.
“I watched the movie ‘Backdraft’ 26 times and turned in four drawings,” Reynolds said. “One night before meeting with the committee, I sat down and did another drawing to give them more options, and that’s the one they wanted.”
The first bank the OSFA approached about a loan said no.
“The reality was we had no collateral,” Minx said. “We didn’t own the building. We didn’t own the land. How were we going to raise whatever we needed to raise?”
Another bank said it would approve a loan if the Oklahoma Bond Oversight Commission would guarantee the funds.
“So we went to sell them on the idea,” Minx said. “And when we walked in the front door, Russell Perry was there. He was the quarterback for Douglass High School when I was playing at Capitol Hill, so it was old home week.
“He said ‘How in the world are you doing? Are you wanting this money for this firefighter deal? Hey, we’ll get it.’ Russell was on the Oversight Commission, and he championed that for us. We got approval and the bank loaned us the money.
“Our good name and our good ability to pay because we were firefighters -- that’s the only reason we got it.”
On June 17, 1999, Minx signed a loan agreement with U.S. National Bank for $750,000 to help fund the Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial.
By March 2000, more than $400,000 had been raised by firefighters purchasing license plates and Christmas ornaments and participating in the Memorial Golf and Run/Walk events.
As of August 2011, the balance on the loan is $70,188.05.
“As one of the members of the Memorial Committee formed 20 years ago to select the final design, we were presented with many different and beautiful examples,” Richard Walts said. “The one we have, however, is one that displays to those who view it what we do every day as firefighters.”
Reynolds did lots of research to make sure her sculpture achieved just that.
In addition to watching the movie “Backdraft” multiple times (that film, by the way, was directed by Oklahoma-born Ron Howard), Reynolds had Oklahoma firefighters pose for pictures.
And she put together a composite figure using the measurements of approximately 100 firefighters.
“One of my models was Chief (Keith) Bryant,” said Reynolds, who moved from Iran to Oklahoma in 1976. “That’s how we came up with the perfect size, but then we had to multiply that one-and-a-half times to get the 9-foot sculpture.
“And the actual pose you see is how I photographed some firefighters on a house that was burnt somewhere on 12th Street. I got up on a roof to do that, but I couldn’t get down. I froze, and they had to bring me down.”
In all, Reynolds submitted 23 drawings and three clay models of the Memorial. She then did a full-size sculpture out of styrofoam and clay (her dad Rahim Rahimi helped), and that was used to make the rubber mold that a Colorado foundry used to cast the sculpture in bronze.
Her work still wasn’t done, however.
“When they had the pieces shipped back to Oklahoma, I had to tell them what part goes where,” Reynolds said. “And the people who were going to put it together didn’t want to do it. They said it was crooked and was going to fall down.
“It took half a day to convince them that everything was done based on an engineer’s calculation. It wasn’t something we threw together. We started the year before and finished a week before the dedication ceremony.”
A lot of folks gave of their time and resources to help with the building of the Memorial.
Midwest Wrecking cleared the land. Allied Steel transported the statue from Colorado to Oklahoma City. Neither asked for a nickel in return.
Still, the original Memorial design (pictured at left before the statue and a few other concepts were changed) had to be scaled back because of costs.
“There was supposed to be a canopy around it for events,” Minx said. “And steps on the north side that go down with granite all the way around. And a meandering walkway south of the grounds with flowers and smaller firefighter memorials.
“We had to cut some things, but we ended up with a good product. After we got it built, different training organizations and unions came through, and they were absolutely in awe of it. Nobody thought something like this could be built here in Oklahoma.”
The Memorial Committee is already looking at Phase II of construction. And all are welcome to share suggestions and ideas for it with the OSFA.
Notable and Quotable
February 1992: The Memorial Centennial Committee formed a sub-committee to look over all the plans being submitted by artists. This committee consisted of Steve McManus, Midwest City, chairman; Judith Ainsworth, Jones; Wesley Bain, Midwest City; Jim Barfield, Lawton; Larry Bogges, Lawton; Everette Brewer, Enid; Louis Bunch, Oklahoma City; Jim Connor, Oklahoma City; Wendell Gilliam, Bartlesville; Penny James, Oklahoma City; Roy Kelley, Enid; John Knuppel, Oklahoma City; Ernie Ledbetter, Okmulgee; Kellie Rex-Lee, Oklahoma City; T.W. Oliver, Tulsa; Sam Oruch, Oklahoma City; Judith Smith, Stillwater; Mike Stephens, Yukon; Richard Walts, Fort Sill; and Mark Zeckser, Midwest City.
December 1992: The Memorial Committee forwarded to the Executive Board a recommendation for an artist for the Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial. A contract was signed.
September 1993: The Memorial Committee selected Culver and Associates as architect of the site, which was separate from the Memorial sculpture. Cost of the site plan was around $500,000 and the art work was around $200,000.
May 1996: “This year’s convention theme is centered around our Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial. What a tribute to our profession as public servants. And as convention hosts, we are striving to generate all the profit from convention, if any, to give to the memorial fund.” -- Herb Bradshaw, OSFA President.
October 1997: The first annual Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial Golf Tournament took in $12,865. With expenditures totaling $7,850, approximately $5,000 was deposited into the Memorial account.
November 1999: “When you dream of things most of the time, they don’t turn into reality. Well, we as the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association (by the way, that’s you and me) have had a dream of building a Memorial suitable for both Fallen and Living Firefighters. Well glory be, what a story we have to tell!” -- David Bain, Memorial Chairman
August 2000: “In recent years, I have heard about this Memorial, asked questions about this Memorial, looked at drawings of this Memorial and periodically watched construction of this Memorial. Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to actually standing in the Memorial, realizing that this is the real deal ... no longer a dream. Firefighters across this state should be proud of this accomplishment.” -- Carl Hickman, OFCA President
June 2003: “Consider getting a personalized firefighter tag and support the Fallen and Living Memorial. We want to get the rest of the plans done for it. We have many visitors from out of state that tell us that our Memorial is one of the biggest and best around.” -- Jim Sanders, Museum Director
Kind Words from Connecticut
Adam D. Piskura, Director of the Connecticut Fire Academy, sent the following letter to the OSFA in August 2000. He visited the Memorial while in Oklahoma attending the Fire Life Safety Conference.
Dear Mr. Minx,
Awe inspiring is what I have to say about your tribute to living and deceased Oklahoma firefighters. The full-scale replica causes viewers to gaze upward upon an act of personal heroism that only a firefighter could thoroughly understand. I am confident that public audiences appreciate the display of courage amidst the fireground danger presented by a decaying situation.
But only a fellow firefighter would think that once retracted to what remains a roof, the fallen firefighter would immediately return to actively fighting the blaze.
Unique to your memorial is the recognition of all individuals who served their communities as firefighters. To my knowledge, only Oklahoma has such records available, let alone the fraternal inclusiveness to display their names in recognition of their quiet personal acts of heroism that pass unnoted everyday.
While I am not an Oklahoman, as a former firefighter, I consider myself honored by your display. Congratulations for executing a great concept with dignity and quality.
Adam D. Piskura, Director, Connecticut Fire Academy
July 1990: A committee was formed to plan the celebration of the Oklahoma Firefighters Association’s 100th anniversary and to create a fitting tribute for the firefighters of Oklahoma.
September 1991: Nationwide search for Memorial designs began. The sculpture “Just Another Day” designed by Shahla Rahimi Reynolds of Oklahoma City was selected in a blind vote from 15 artists who submitted plans.
June 11, 1994: OSFA Executive Director Jim Minx and OSFA Outgoing President David Bain hosted a ground breaking ceremony for the Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial.
December 1997: Work to clear the land for the Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial began. Midwest Wrecking Company donated its time to do the job.
June 17, 1999: Jim Minx signed a loan agreement with U.S. National Bank to fund the Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial.
July 1999: Shahla Rahimi Reynolds began working on the sculpture in the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum. More space was needed, so the project moved to a warehouse supplied by Flintco Constructive Solutions.
September 1, 1999: Construction began on the Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial. Flintco Constructive Solutions laid steel, set forms and poured concrete.
June 8, 2000: The Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial was formally dedicated during the 106th Annual Oklahoma State Firefighters Association Convention. Jim Minx and OSFA President Charles Stone performed the ribbon cutting ceremony.
October 8, 2000: The inaugural Oklahoma Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial Service was held. More than 100 gathered, and 256 names were read.