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Darrell Willis, a Prescott Fire Department division chief, said he traveled with the crew a couple of years ago when they fought a fire in Colorado. On the way back, the unit stopped in Glenwood Springs and then climbed Storm King Mountain, where 14 firefighters died in 1994.
"We spent the entire sunny summer afternoon evaluating, studying, talking about what happened there 19 years ago," Willis said. "They were truly committed to never letting something like this ever happen again. They were committed to returning to you after every assignment. But there was another plan."
The highly specialized crew was part of a small community of Hotshots nationwide. There are only about 110 of the 20-person teams, mostly stationed west of the Mississippi River.
McDonough was assigned to give a "heads-up on the hillside" for the unit on that fateful afternoon, Prescott Fire Department spokesman Wade Ward said. McDonough notified the crew of the rapidly changing weather that sent winds swirling erratically and caused the fire to cut off his team's escape route, then swiftly left his post for safety.
Ward has said McDonough did "did exactly what he was supposed to."
Tuesday's memorial was the last of a handful of vigils for the men before the first of 19 funerals begin later in the week.
Two tolls of a bell rang out as each firefighter's name was called, and a member of his family stood up in the audience.
An honor guard that included alumni of the Granite Mountain Hotshots carried the flags and Pulaski tools through the aisles, turning to face the family members who accepted the items on behalf of the firefighters.
Some of the family members then hugged others next to them, as the men's pictures flashed on screens overhead and the choir began singing "You Raise Me Up."
Other photos showed the men playing with their children, riding bikes, carrying crew members on their backs, hanging out at camp and in close encounters with fire.
Biden offered the families some solace as he wrapped up his remarks.
"As unbelievable as it is to even fathom ... the day will come when the memory of your husband, your son, or your dad or your brother will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye," he said. "My prayer for all of you is that that day will come sooner than later, but I promise you as unbelievable as it is, it will come."
Biden met privately with family members after the memorial.