WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County firefighters said they’re being forced to remove memorial stickers, honoring one of their fallen brothers, from their fire trucks.
“He meant everything to me. You know, he was our provider, he was my best friend, he was our world,” said Ariana Davis.
Ariana Davis said she still remembers the September day she lost her world, her husband Bryon Johnson.
“It was just like a nightmare coming to life,” said Davis.
Bryon Johnson was a decorated Sedgwick County Fire Lieutenant. He was 32-years-old when he was electrocuted while on a grass fire call in 2007. Shortly after Johnson’s death, his fellow firefighters created small stickers with Johnson’s nickname, Bubba, on them.
“They actually put some of them on the trucks, the engines and squads, just put them on the windows, just kind of as a reminder of his sacrifice,” Davis said.
However, last week, nearly 10 years after the stickers were placed on two of the fire trucks, the Sedgwick County Fire Chief told the firefighters he wanted the stickers removed from the trucks.
“The directive that Chief Leake put out last week was, hey, let’s get these five stickers off of these two trucks. It was not authorized. They’re not fair to the other two families of fallen firefighters,” said Assistant Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz.
Stolz said the stickers were approved by the former administration. He said Chief Leake was not aware of the stickers on the trucks until a couple of weeks ago when command staff was putting hiring decals on the engines. Stolz said once Chief Leake was made aware of them, he gave the removal directive.
“Chief Leake had talked with his fire commanders, his division chiefs to determine if anyone had authorized that,” Stolz said. They talked amongst themselves, nobody had, and the chief’s main concern, which would be any body’s concern who is a chief in any body’s organization, is this does not seem fair to other two victims who have living-family members and friends still in the community.”
Stolz said the county understands the stickers were placed on the trucks in memory of Johnson, but reiterated it’s not fair for one fallen firefighter to have a sticker and the other two fallen firefighters to not have stickers.
“There is no way that he would want to do anything malicious or dishonor this gentleman. He just wants to make sure that we are fair and equitable to all of the families of all three of the gentleman who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their job,” he said.
Meanwhile, Davis said she doesn’t feel like it’s fair to her and her family to make the firefighters remove the stickers.
“That’s like saying to me or to his children or to these guys it’s not important anymore, but it is important,” Davis said. “You lose a spouse, you don’t want them forgotten, but we are talking about somebody that gave their life protecting you and me and our community and our belongings and you don’t want that sacrifice forgotten, ever.”
Stolz said the fire chief is reviewing the memorial policy. He said he will decide sometime soon on how to move forward which could include banning the stickers or getting stickers to represent the other two fallen firefighters.
“He is going to take a look at this. He is going to discuss the policy. If something needs to go on the vehicles as a memorial, it may be very appropriate,” Stolz said.