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Supporting the families of the fallen

By Rebecca Angel Baer, CNN
July 9, 2013 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
The bodies of 19 firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire are transported through Phoenix on July 7.
The bodies of 19 firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire are transported through Phoenix on July 7.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The memorial service for 19 firefighters who died in Arizona is on July 9
  • The hotshot firefighters left behind families who need help now
  • Several organizations are on the ground in Prescott helping these families cope
  • Head of one support group says the help these families need will be long-term

(CNN) -- The 19 "hotshot" firefighters killed in Arizona on June 30 were trained to get close to a blaze, dig barriers and clear out the brush that otherwise would fuel it. But a sudden shift in the Yarnell Hill Fire's direction trapped the group.

The deaths are under investigation, but officials have said it appears the 19 were forced to lie down under blankets meant to protect against flames and heat as a last resort against an inferno that overwhelmed them. Just one member of the elite 20-man wildfire-fighting crew survived. It was the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since the 9/11 attacks.

Now the firefighters' families -- many with small children -- must figure out how to cope, as they mourn their losses.

There are organizations that assist the families of lost firefighters, and several are already mobilized for the families of the Prescott, Arizona-based crew. Ronald Siarnicki is the executive director of one such group, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

"In general, needs end up being the same for fallen firefighters, no matter where it is in the country. The immediate needs are going to be some financial support to help them deal with costs associated with the death. Oftentimes the firefighter is the main breadwinner in the household, so you've got to worry about food on the table, shoes for the kids and those kinds of things," Siarnicki says.

Nineteen firefighters, part of an elite group called the Hotshots, died while battling a wildfire about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix on Sunday, June 30. Here are the 19 victims: Andrew Ashcraft, 29. Nineteen firefighters, part of an elite group called the Hotshots, died while battling a wildfire about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix on Sunday, June 30. Here are the 19 victims: Andrew Ashcraft, 29.
The Arizona firefighter victims
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The Arizona firefighter victims The Arizona firefighter victims
 A hearse carrying the body of Christopher MacKenzie arrives at Los Alamitos Air Field, California, on July 10. MacKenzie was one of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives when they became trapped and their position overrun by flames from the Yarnell Hill Fire, southwest of Prescott on June 30. A hearse carrying the body of Christopher MacKenzie arrives at Los Alamitos Air Field, California, on July 10. MacKenzie was one of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives when they became trapped and their position overrun by flames from the Yarnell Hill Fire, southwest of Prescott on June 30.
Remembering the Arizona firefighters
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Photos: Remembering Arizona firefighters Photos: Remembering Arizona firefighters
A deadly wildfire leaves behind little but a burned-out car and the remains of a house in a Yarnell, Arizona, neighborhood on Wednesday, July 3. The fire started a week ago near Yarnell, apparently because of lightning strikes. Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday, June 30, battling the blaze northwest of Phoenix. A deadly wildfire leaves behind little but a burned-out car and the remains of a house in a Yarnell, Arizona, neighborhood on Wednesday, July 3. The fire started a week ago near Yarnell, apparently because of lightning strikes. Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday, June 30, battling the blaze northwest of Phoenix.
Deadly wildfire burns in Arizona
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Photos: Arizona wildfire Photos: Arizona wildfire

The foundation also helps with the necessary paperwork for each family as well as providing emotional support.

"We use survivors from other line-of-duty death incidents to be in our survivor support network, and we kind of match survivors up from previous events with the new families, so they have somebody to talk to. Sometimes they just need somebody who understands what they're going through," explains Siarnicki, who was a firefighter in Prince George's County, Maryland, for 24 years.

Siarnicki's group also helps the children of fallen firefighters cope with their loss, because they often don't understand the spotlight such an event puts them under. There are also long-term needs for the entire family to help rebuild their lives. The foundation holds conferences to teach life skills and financial planning.

Siarnicki says the 19 firefighters lost in Arizona were a special breed -- like many others who choose to be firefighters.

"The fire service is a very dangerous profession, whether you're career or volunteer, wildlands or industrial or even military firefighters. We understand the risks to being a firefighter and we accept those. And we try to do everything humanly possible to prevent tragic occurrences, but unfortunately they do occur. And so our families kind of know that."

"And so there is a bonding effect within the fire service," Siarnicki continues. "There is that fire service family. And I think the uniqueness of that is we function as a team. A fire crew, you know, they live together, sleep together, eat together, laugh together, go home to their families, but when they're at work, there's a secondary family. And both of those have very special unique bonds."

Additional groups also offering support to the families of the Prescott hotshots are:

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Part of complete coverage on
Arizona wildfire
Nineteen firefighters died while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona on Sunday, June 30. Get to know who these fallen firefighters were in our interactive.
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
The bodies of 19 Arizona firefighters killed in a wildfire went home in a somber procession of more than 100 miles across the state.
July 3, 2013 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Brendan McDonough, a lookout for his elite 20-man Arizona wildfire-fighting crew, saw Sunday's blaze change directions and warned his team by radio from his hilltop perch.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
The mother of one of the firefighters that died in a fire in Prescott, Arizona, remembers her son.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Joe Woyjeck last talked to his son Kevin, the outdoors enthusiast who took up his father's firefighting profession, on the phone just hours before Kevin died.
July 3, 2013 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Fire falling and bouncing and pouring like lava down mountainsides. Fire taking your breath and replacing it with fire. Or at least that's what if feels like during a blow-up.
July 3, 2013 -- Updated 0256 GMT (1056 HKT)
Piers Morgan talks with the family of firefighter Robert Caldwell, who lost his life battling the Arizona wildfire.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
One of the men killed fighting a massive wildfire in Arizona left behind a fiancee who is pregnant.
July 11, 2013 -- Updated 1616 GMT (0016 HKT)
Memorials and vigils remember the men lost in the Yarnell fire.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
They were part of an elite squad confronting wildfires on the front line, setting up barriers to stop the spreading destruction. But in their unpredictable world, it doesn't take much to turn a situation deadly.
July 5, 2013 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
Click through our gallery to see photos of the raging fires in Arizona.
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