HELENA — For years, Helena Fire Chief Sean Logan has been trying to think of a way to honor the station’s fallen firemen.
It was more than 15 years ago when a fellow firefighter first took Logan into the basement of the firehouse and showed him a map of Forestvale Cemetery, showing where some were buried.
Firefighters in the Helena department used to place American flags atop custom-engraved bronze markers next to the gravestones every Memorial Day. Intrigued by the markers’ unique design, Logan decided to track down any that might still be in existence.
“As I went and actually found the graves, I found about four or five of these markers,” he said. “At one of the cemeteries, I asked the caretaker, ‘Tell me what you know about these.’”
She told him there used to be as many as 20 in that cemetery next to the graves of former firefighters but that, over the years, they were stolen or removed.
“We thought about trying to revive the idea of these grave markers,” Logan said. “We didn’t have any real idea of how to do it.”
When Lt. Kasey De La Hunt heard about the markers, he thought he might know someone up to the challenge.
His 18-year-old son, Alex De La Hunt, was taking shop class at Capital High and has spent the past few months designing and creating brand new silver markers to be placed next to about 75 local graves of fallen firefighters.
“I’m pretty big about the past and history,” said De La Hunt, who graduated earlier this month.
He spent hours learning to use Computer Animated Drawing, or CAD, programs to create the design and the programming that brought Logan’s dream to life.
“This has been during class, before class,” De La Hunt said of the project. “A lot of lunches have been spent in here, a lot after school hours.”
The new markers are shaped like outlines of the fire department logo and cut from a 6-by-6-inch piece of silver metal.
The letters IAFF — for International Association of Firefighters — circle the outside of the plaque and a detailed etching of the Helena fire tower with the words “Helena Fire Dept.” rest in the center of the marker.
Each marker costs about $20 in raw materials to make and features a precisely cut hole in which to place an American flag.
De La Hunt’s shop teacher Jim Weber said he is impressed with the amount of effort he has dedicated to the project.
“It’s a great thing to see a young man stepping out and doing something that has intrinsic value,” Weber said. “It’s taken him a year to get to the point where he can do this.”
Though the materials to make each marker are relatively cheap, Weber said the amount of time De La Hunt spends to create each piece is worth far more.
“If I was in a machine shop, there is no way I would make one of those for less than $100 a pop,” he said.
De La Hunt’s father, a former machinist in the military and a lieutenant at the Helena Fire Department, is equally thrilled with his son’s success.
Many of his relatives were also firefighters, and he was pleased to see Alex’s work honoring the profession.
“I believe my oldest son and possibly him are going to follow in my footsteps (and become a firefighter), carrying that tradition along,” he said.
“I was so proud of him to step up and do something like that,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing a dad could ever ask for.”
For Logan, De La Hunt’s work is a dream come true.
“We were hoping to somehow replicate this marker that we had found, and to have it be done to this level is far beyond my expectation,” he said.
“We can honor our predecessors and our community with this project,” he said.