Updated August 29, 2022
Originally posted on June 9, 2022
There is an account setup at City Hall to accept donations to make this memorial a reality. You can donate by:
♦ Calling the Tooele City Finance Department at 435-843-2150
♦ Come to City Hall in person at 90 North Main Street, Tooele
♦ Mail a check to Tooele City Corporation, PO Box 89, Tooele, UT 84074 (please indicate on the check that the payment is for the Dow James Memorial).
♦ Venmo @TVFD-Association
On August 26, 1975 Tooele City fireman Wayne Dow and his family were just sitting down to dinner when they heard a siren. It got closer and then quit in front of their house. A Tooele City police officer burst into the house and said, “You’d better come with me, Lauren’s been burned.” The family rushed to the Tooele hospital where Wayne’s brother Lauren and another man, Dan James, lay unconscious. A helicopter from Dugway Proving Grounds quickly rushed both men to University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Earlier that afternoon wildfires broke out near Stockton, about 5 miles south of Tooele, and as was the procedure then, the Sheriff’s Department responded to join suppression efforts with State, Army Depot and Stockton firefighters. Lauren Dow, a member of the Tooele City Volunteer Fire Department, was a deputy sheriff and although he was off-duty, he headed out in the brush truck with Dan James, a Tooele City Animal Control Officer and Dave Jones, a young man who wanted to be a deputy. Since the Sheriff’s office was in charge of wildland fire, the Tooele FD was not dispatched. The brush truck was just an old surplus pickup with a water tank, a pump and a hose reel. There was no radio and very little other equipment. The windows didn’t even roll up. The crew wore jeans, boots and light shirts.
Sheriff Bill Pitt was in charge of the firefighting efforts but he had his hands full. It was the third fire in a short period of time. The weather was hot, dry and a little windy. Visibility from smoke and blowing dust and embers was getting worse. He did not have radio communication with most of his resources. He and his people had virtually no training in wildfire response. In 1975 almost no local government firefighters had any sort of formal wildfire training.
Dow’s crew was laying hose out of the back of the truck in the mouth of a gully in the foothills northeast of Stockton when things got bad in a hurry. The wind shifted and a sudden updraft blew the fire towards the men. They were not able to drive out of the path of the fire. James and Jones ran uphill from the truck to try and out race the flames. Jones tripped and fell into a depression, which saved his life as the fire blew over him, burning him slightly. James ran for a ridge but part way up his clothing burst into flames. Dow stayed in the truck where he apparently inhaled the superheated air from the encroaching flame front burning through tinder-dry grass and sage.
The county fire truck stationed at Stockton was completely destroyed by the fire but the brush truck Dow drove was scarcely damaged as the fire moved by so fast. Then the flames were gone as fast as they came. At the hospital Dow looked ok, just like he had a sunburn, except where his cowboy boots protected him. But inside, his lung tissue was burned and fluid filled his lungs. Strength and size just didn’t matter for the big man nicknamed “Tiny”. He was a champion athlete; wrestling, football, basketball, any competition was a reason to fight for the win. He died at the U of U hospital later that evening. Lauren was 27 years old and left behind a wife and two young sons.
Danny James was a cut up, a practical joker who loved to laugh and joke. He looked up to Lauren and the other fire and police personnel he worked with. He was proud of working for the Police department as the animal control officer. He did his job well and he knew better things would come if he kept it up. He never got a chance. Severe burns caused a massive release of protein into his circulatory system. Two days after the fire, Danny succumbed to his massive burns. Danny was only 19 years old.
In November 1975 Governor Calvin Rampton gave the victims families posthumous awards for “Outstanding Service to the Utah Wildland Fire Control Program.” Tooele City further honored them by naming a City Park and a recreation building after them.
In 1986, a plaque was placed on the archway to the baseball field at the Dow James Park by the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office. The plaque is now in poor condition and these two men deserve better. Mayor Winn has met with representatives of the Dow and James families to determine what a new memorial should look like. It will be placed at the Dow James Park for members of our community to learn the story and remember the sacrifice made on their behalf and to honor our volunteers who continue to serve us today. Tooele City has started taking donations to raise the funds to complete this project as soon as possible. To begin the fundraising effort, Mayor Winn and her husband Tyler donated $1,000 and ask others to donate what they can.
There is an account setup at City Hall to accept donations to make this memorial a reality. You can donate by calling the Tooele City Finance Department at 435-843-2150; come to City Hall in person at 90 North Main Street, Tooele; or mail a check to Tooele City Corporation, PO Box 89, Tooele, UT 84074 (please indicate on the check that the payment is for the Dow James Memorial). You can also Venmo @TVFD-Association.
Statement from Mayor Winn to the members of the Tooele City Fire Department, “The Tooele City Fire Department website states the following: We are a volunteer organization that respects the dignity of people and strives to provide the very best fire and rescue services in our community. The City Council members and I support that statement. Our goal is to increase the necessary training to certify all members of the department and provide equipment that will keep our firefighters safe. Your family should be assured that when the alarm goes off, you will return safely to your home. Never again should we lose a firefighter due to lack of training or equipment. Words cannot express the appreciation we feel for you and wish to thank you for your continued dedication and service. May God bless you and your families and protect you while you perform your heroic service to our community.”