Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Leonard (Len) F. Dems, the Fire and Aviation Officer for the Intermountain Region passed away on December 5, 2010 after a battle with cancer.

“Celebration of Life” Held to Honor Len Dems, Intermountain Region Fire and Aviation Officer

Intermountain Region, Colorado

Hundreds of family, friends and co-workers from all across the country gathered on the gorgeous day of Thursday, December 9, 2010 for a memorial service and "Celebration of Life" to honor Len Dems, Fire Management Officer for the National Park Services' Intermountain Region. Len passed away on December 5 after a courageous battle against cancer.

The memorial service was held at St. Francis Cabrini Parish in Littleton, CO, the Catholic Church that Len and his family regularly attended. Boy Scout Troop 989 that Len and his son Cody were involved with for many years welcomed guests into the church along with many of Len's co-workers who lined up along the entrance to the church dressed in agency uniforms or fire clothes. Two bagpipers from local fire agencies played songs outside the church as well.

An Interagency Color Guard from the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management stood watch over Len's ashes which were in his fire shelter on the altar along with his fire pack, hard hat, boots and Pulaski. Just before the service began, the Color Guard saluted Len and slowly walked to the back of the church where they stood at attention for the duration of the Mass.

During the Mass the Priest spoke about how Len's life had touched so many people both in personal and professional ways, and especially his dedication to the National Park Service and its fire management program and the Boy Scouts of America. He also spoke of Len's devotion to his family and reminded Len's wife Jenny and his sons Cody and Dylan how much he loved them. In addition there were many beautiful songs sung by Len's niece and two of Cody's friends with readings by family and friends.

After the service the bagpipers once again played as guests filed out of the church. Eight fire engines with emergency lights on led a procession of vehicles to the "Celebration of Life". This event was held close by at the Denver Botanical Gardens also in Littleton, a 750 acre site that provided a beautiful and appropriate natural setting in which to honor Len. Guests gathered in and outside the refurbished Old Red Barn on the garden property to visit and share memories of Len. Friends and family put together a heartfelt slide presentation of Len set to some of his favorite songs. This tribute played during the huge dinner that was served to all the guests. The dinner included many of Len's favorite dishes (pulled pork, coonies, key lime and many more) with plenty of food and drinks for all. Later, guests were given the opportunity to openly speak of Len. Many people took advantage of this and offered a delightful variety of stories from both serious and humorous perspectives.

As guests were leaving the celebration it was getting dark and the Botanical Gardens were having their Holiday Lights presentation where Christmas lights are placed on trees throughout the grounds. It was a very fitting and touching way to end the celebration and honor a man who has done so much for others.

Obituary

Leonard F. Dems, the Fire and Aviation Officer for Intermountain Region passed away after a battle with cancer on December 5th. He had over 30 years of service in NPS.

In his youth, Len accomplished the rank of Eagle Scout and later became proud scout leader and father of an Eagle Scout when his oldest son Cody accomplished the same goal. Always the avid sports fan, Len was always busy with his sons' athletics. He was proud to make a trip to Cooperstown when his youngest son Dylan had the opportunity to play baseball at the famed park. Len followed sports of all kinds was a season ticket holder for the Colorado Rockies, avid fan of the Syracuse Orangemen, primarily basketball.

Len was one of the National Park Service's highly skilled veteran firefighters. He started his firefighting career on the fire crew of the Grand Canyon North Rim 'Longshots' in 1978. He received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Forestry and Forest Biology from the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science in 1980. After graduation he rose to Foreman of that crew in 1984. His fire acumen was demonstrated on several challenging fires during a period of fire policy evolution. He was noted for his mechanical aptitude, work ethic, leadership during crisis, and teamwork with other echelons of the NPS. As a law enforcement officer he was called to serve on All-Risk Incidents in several capacities. He attended the Federal Law Enforcement Training in Glynco, Georgia and graduated with the highest marksmanship scores in his class. He worked in Everglades and Glen Canyon National Park as a Park Ranger, Shenandoah and Grant Teton National Parks as Fire Management Officer (FMO).

His accomplishments included interagency cooperation and collaboration with both aviation and fire management activities. His work has yielded benefits in efficiencies and good will to the present day. He was a respected leader in Fire and Aviation Management by his organization, State Cooperators, and the Interagency Federal Fire agencies.

He transferred to the Intermountain Region as Wildland Fire Specialist. The fire seasons were very active and as Chair of the Rocky Mountain Coordinating Group in 2002 he had to adjudicate interagency controversies with good judgment, fairness and consistency for interagency policies. Len was promoted to the Regional FMO job in February 2005. He has held that job to this time. He served on many national boards of review and as a technical subject matter expert for management of large wildland fires.

Len is preceded in death by his father Leonard A. Dems and survived by his wife Jenny (Hinson- Park Facility Management Division, WASO), son Cody 17, Dylan 15, mother Connie Dems of Syracuse, NY; Kathleen (sister) and Robert Hazen (Emily, Kyle, and Eric) of Acton, MA; Karen O'Donnell (sister) (Brian and Melanie) of Nashua NH; Bernie (brother) and Patty Dems (Wil and Helen) of Houston, TX. Jenny's family Norm Hinson (Father in law- NPS Retiree); Scott (Brother in law- Special Agent in Charge, WASO) and Mary (sister in-law- LAME Chief Ranger), Tyler and Jerra Hinson; Jeff Hinson (brother in-law -Assistant FMO USFS, Gila NF) and Maureen McGllinchy, Norah.

Contact: Karrie Davin, Ranger Activities Specialist
Phone: (303) 969-2358