Biden said he never met any of the crew, known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, but that he knew what kind of people they were because he had been served so well by firefighters in the past.
“I know them because they saved the life of my two sons when a tractor-trailer broadsided my daughter, my wife and my daughter and my two sons,” Biden said at the service that filled the 5,000-seat Toyota Center in the unit's hometown of Prescott, Ariz. “My wife and daughter died, and but for the fire service, my two sons would have. But the Jaws of Life working for over an hour and a half saved them.”
Biden also recalled the time he suffered an aneurysm and was rushed to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm by emergency responders, and the firefighter response that he said saved the lives of him and his second wife after their home caught fire from a lightning strike.
The vice president said he could relate to the sorrow the families of the deceased firefighters were experiencing, saying he had received the same tragic phone call informing him of the deaths of his wife and daughter. He described a feeling of “getting sucked into that void in your chest.”
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined surviving members of the crew and firefighters from across the country in Prescott for the service.
White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked during Tuesday’s press briefing why President Obama didn’t make the trip.
“I think it's very meaningful for Vice President Biden to attend, as you may have heard him in the past speak about his own personal experiences with firefighters,” Carney said. “He has a very high regard, as the president does, but a personal experience that I think makes him a fitting representative of this administration, of the American people, at the memorial.”
The deceased firefighters' remains were returned home on Sunday, and thousands attended a procession that wound through the streets of Phoenix and into Prescott.
Hundreds evacuated their homes during the June 30 blaze in the small mountain mining town of Yarnell, and many of the town’s fewer than 1,000 residents have been displaced.