HOT SPRINGS -- They buried a hero here Tuesday, on a summer day that began with smoke from the fire that killed him hanging in the air above this Southern Hills town.
Trampus Haskvitz, 23, a Buffalo Gap native remembered for his strong heart, gentle spirit and fearless approach to life, died last Thursday fighting the Coal Canyon Fire in the rugged canyon lands near Edgemont.
And smoke from that waning blaze, which was 95 percent contained on Tuesday, created a hazy beginning to a day that drew hundreds of firefighters to say goodbye.
Chaplain Morris Nelson noted the poignant presence of that smoke during a memorial service for Haskvitz at the Mueller Center Auditorium.
“Trampus died last Thursday fighting the fire you can still smell,” Nelson said to about 1,500 people in the packed auditorium.
The crowd included Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, who sat with officers from the city fire department and police department, which just last week buried two of its officers slain in a North Rapid gunfight that draped the city in sadness.
The death of Haskvitz heaped tragedy upon tragedy. And Chaplain Nelson urged those who knew and loved him to remember Haskvitz and his sacrifice whenever they saw or smelled a fire.
Nelson was joined by a fire commander, a governor, a teacher and a brother in offering eulogies to Haskvitz, a college football player who honed that athleticism in seasonal firefighting work for the state Wildland Fire Suppression Division.
Nobody said farewell better than Ben Haskvitz, leaning on the lectern and gathering deep breaths in a brave eulogy for a brother who loved so many.
“Tramp loved us all. I don’t know how he had enough love for everyone,” Ben Haskvitz said. “It blows my mind.”
In a soft, halting voice, he told stories about sibling playfulness that had many in the audience chuckling through their tears. He also marveled at how he looked up to his younger brother
“There were so many things about that kid you wanted to be like,” Ben said.
Kim Henningsen had a chance to see those qualities as a Hot Springs teacher. A hard-working student and committed multi-sport athlete, Trampus Haskvitz never forgot those not blessed with so much, Henningsen said.
He said Haskvitz was always kind to special-education students at school.
“Trampus, you see, took care of others,” Henningsen said. “He seemed to relish being a public servant, no strings attached.”
Henningsen recalled being amazed how the undersized Haskvitz went from a full-bore “wedge-breaker” on kickoffs as a sophomore on the Hot Springs High School football team to a talented regular as a senior.
“Trampus might have been undersized, but he was never afraid or intimidated,” Henningsen said.
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Haskvitz took that fearlessness into his summer work with state fire crews. Wildland Fire Suppression Division Director Joe Lowe said Haskvitz showed a leadership style, team spirit and positive attitude in an inherently risky job in ways that will not be forgotten.
“Each time we roll out on a fire, a little bit of Trampus will go with us,” Lowe said.
Turning to look at Don and LuJean Haskvitz, sitting in the front row near their son’s flag-draped casket, Lowe struggled with his emotions.
“Your son died a hero,” he said. “And he will have a special place in heaven. Thank you.”
In his eulogy, Gov. Dennis Daugaard turned to the John Donne poem “No Man is an Island” and its powerful message of interconnectedness, particularly “any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
Daugaard said Haskvitz was involved in mankind in the most personal way: “Putting himself at risk so that others would be safe.”
His death is South Dakota’s loss, Daugaard said.
“Trampus died protecting South Dakotans. We are all diminished, and South Dakota is less because he is no longer with us,” he said.
The ending of the poem, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” was especially personal, because the memorial service ended with a traditional firefighter’s “last alarm.”
On a shining fire bell near Haskvitz’ casket, an honor squad member from the Rapid City Fire Department rang a sequence of three rings three times, concluding the service as many wept.
Then family, friends and firefighters, law-enforcement and other personnel from throughout South Dakota and adjoining states filed out for a procession to the cemetery that included more than 100 trucks, lights flashing.
By then, a northwest breeze had blown most of the smoky haze away from Trampus Haskvitz’s home town, but only for now.
There will always be more fires, more smoke and more memories of a hero.
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or email@example.com