other previous winners

In a state that has witnessed devastating wildfires, and a nation that has endured terrorism and biological threats, our emergency service providers must be prepared to respond to an amazing variety of catastrophic events. And respond they do, with extraordinary courage and compassion, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

We have all had cause to be more aware of the dedication of our firefighters. For ten years, United Fire has been proud to recognize an individual Arizona firefighter whose outstanding achievements typify the best in the state’s fire service community. Those qualities include a commitment to benefit the community, the courage to carry out the firefighter’s mission, and the compassion needed to serve in a caring way. In a year inflicted by so many furious fires that has brought the dedication of America’s firefighters to the forefront of our consciousness, we are pleased to honor a firefighter who represents the best qualities of Arizona’s firefighters. 

The 2003 United Fire Firefighter of the Year is Rick Lupe, of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fort Apache Station. Mr. Lupe was a Hotshot Firefighter for twenty years, eventually becoming a Hotshot Supervisor and recently a Fuels Management Specialist. Rick took the threat of fire personally and he fought his "war on fire" many times in Arizona. The most memorable, and what cemented his name in the mind of the average Arizona citizen, was his heroic effort during the Rodeo-Chediski fire. This fire consumed 469,000 acres and caused the evacuation of 30,000 people.

Rick knew that a fire line in Hop Canyon would be the "last line of defense" if there was going to be any hope of stopping the raging fire from destroying the town of Showlow.  Along with his fellow "hotshots", Rick fought tirelessly using his legendary intellect and skills for every inch of land. Using a bulldozer they created the fire line that stopped the fire from crossing Highway 60 and burning into the town.

Rick was honored for his bravery and relentless determination. Through it all, he took little credit for himself, and often turned the attention to the work of his team and the hundreds of other fireman that all worked together to bring this fire under control.

Rick’s last fire was the Sawtooth prescribed burn. Although finding himself in "extraordinary" circumstances, he radioed for his crew to "get back into the black", a safe place to protect themselves. Unfortunately, that fire took his life on June 19th of this year. He fought the injuries he sustained from that fire for 5 weeks, longer than anyone expected, longer than anyone could imagine.

United Fire and our judges were not  the only ones who see Rick as a hero. The United States Congress passed a congressional resolution honoring him for his long and essential service in fighting wildfires and caring for the environment, and for ultimately sacrificing his life for the people of Arizona.

In a statement Congressman Rick Renzi said: "Arizona lost a true hero in Rick Lupe. This loss comes at a time when his knowledge was needed most to help preserve and protect our forests and rural communities from the summer fires. His legacy lives on through the spirit of those he worked with and through those whose lives he saved."

Courage is grace under pressure. Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another. Rick’s life is distinguished, and he will always be remembered for his accomplishments as a firefighter, as well as a father, a husband and a friend.

The significant loss of Rick’s life does not diminish the accomplishments that he achieved. We are very proud to present the 2003 United Fire Firefighter of the Year Symbol of Excellence Award to the family of Rick Lupe!

Rick Lupe - Roy Hall - Danny Nelson
Rodeo Fire 2002
  BIA Fort Apache Station Hotshots          Judges