CODY, Wyo - Tim Hart, a smokejumper who died fighting a fire in New Mexico, was remembered as a strong, hard-working, passionate man who loved his family and excelled at his career during a funeral service at Cody High School Saturday.
“He lived and he worked on the path of something greater than himself, his wife and his family, his friends and his colleagues: his fellow Americans, the people we serve," said Vicki Christiansen, chief of U.S. Forest Service.
Hart was originally from Chicago and is survived by his mother Pam, wife Michelle, sister Meg and dog Dash.
Hart died from injuries sustained May 24 while responding to the Ericks Fire in Hildago County, New Mexico. He started his wildland firefighting career in 2006, holding a series of positions before joining the smokejumper program in 2016 and relocating to Grangeville, Idaho as a rookie.
Christiansen said Hart was one of three applicants hired to the Grangeville Smokejumpers that year out of 300 applicants.
In 2016, Hart would go 117 days without jumping on a fire, having to watch other crews from the ground until Sept. 26 when a call came in for a fire in the Shasta Trinity National Forest, according to Mike Blinn, Hart's Grangeville base manager.
“There were a few people at the base that were really hoping he would go jumpless just because those would have been good phone calls in the winter," Blinn said.
After Hart's second year in Grangeville, Blinn said it was apparent to him that Hart wouldn't be there much longer. Hart was sleeping in the back of his truck to do the job he loved and had started dating Michelle from Cody, who would later become his wife, Blinn said.
“The way Tim put it, he was living the dream in two places, but he needed those two places to be closer together," Blinn said.
A squad leader position became open on the West Yellowstone Smokejumpers and Blinn said if they wanted to keep him in the region, they would have to let Hart go to be a bit closer to his family.
Blinn said hart always did the job with a smile and that honesty and integrity were his most valued attributes.
"Tim was kind and generous and he was always present in the moment. And above all, he was a friend. He is dearly missed by those who had the good fortune to spend time with him, but he is fondly remembered and will never be far from our thoughts," Blinn said.
Hart family friend, Ben Werner said Hart loved crossword puzzles, duck hunting, Levi jeans and was an accomplished pinochle player. Hart also played the drums for a metal band in his younger years, but the banjo is what was most associated him, Werner said.
Werner said Hart showed his affection through actions. Werner recalled how after Hart's father passed at when he was 18, Hart went back to Illinois every summer to help his mom with tasks around the house. then he would travel to his sister in Virginia to spend time with his sister. Both tasks Hart was never asked to do, but did anyway.
“His affection was made evident through action and deed rather than through words or easy gestures," Werner said.
Hart's mother Pam said her son found his identity in wildland firefighting and he never did anything on a small scale. He never basked in the limelight. He only wanted to get the job done and move on. As well, he had a good heart, Pam said.
“Tim had a kind and loving heart. But if you said something to him about this, he would scowl and mumble and move on. Only to come back when no one was around to do what was right," Pam said.
Pam said she was sad for the death of her son, but proud of him for doing what he loved.
“My son died, but not in vain, and not for nothing. He died doing a job that he truly loved to do. As his mom, I am sad that I will not see or hear my son again. But I am so very proud of the man. He was doing a job he loved," Pam said.
Hart's wife, Michelle said she hoped those in attendance honored Hart by letting his memory guide their actions.
“I ask that you honor him by holding him and your memories of him in your hearts and letting him guide you in your actions. Enjoy silence. Embrace mystery. Be the first to action. Live at the tip of the spear. To not let anyone alter or quiet your voice. This is how Tim lived and how he helped me to look at life," Michelle said.
Near the end of the service, dispatch in Bozeman offered one last call to their fallen comrade, with the radio signal amplified through the football field speakers so all could hear.
“We would like to thank you for your dedicated service and your continuous sacrifices made to the community. Bozeman dispatch acknowledges fallen firefighter Tim Hart is out of service. Godspeed and farewell," the dispatcher said.