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National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Roll of Honor

Age: 39
Year of Death: 2002

Rick Schwartz

Submitted by his wife

Rick Schwartz‚ 39‚ an aerial firefighter contracted with the U.S. Forest Service by Hawkins & Powers Aviation of Wyoming‚ died with his co-pilot Milt Stollak July 18‚ 2002 while dropping retardant on the Big Elk Fire in Colorado. The slurry tanker they were flying‚ an old World War II PB4Y#123 lost the left wing due to structural failure. They died in the line of duty. Rick was looking forward to spending time at home with his new wife Liz and son that was born in November‚ four months after his death.

He was a small town boy that gravitated to local places. Two minutes after meeting Rick you felt like you knew him all your life and you liked him. He had a big-hearted‚ open soul for all and his hugs would be your undoing. He would have you laughing at some saying he picked up and surprised that he would say it. He loved to snowmobile. He especially loved to fly his own private plane.

He wanted to be a pilot at a young age after he flew on a plane and got to visit with the pilot in the cockpit. He acquired the skill at the age of 18 and fought back from a severe car wreck to fly again. While recouping he trained to be an A & P mechanic so he could fix aircraft. It was important that he could make a living doing what he loved so his ultimate thrill was working for Hawkins & Powers. His best days were when he could fly effectively on a fire and save a family home. He loved that he got to fly a PB4Y‚ which was apart of history and loved that the veterans would come to see the plane and talk to Rick about their flying experiences in one of the old bombers.

He was not shy; he quickly introduced himself among a stranger which was helpful because during fire season he did not know where he would end up at the end of the day. He liked to find a local place where he could have a cold one and visit with people. Lately the topic of conversation had changed for Rick. He loved to tell anyone about his new bride and the home they bought in Montana. And the latest and greatest news was that he was going to be a Daddy. He would pull out the small photo album that his wife Liz made him and show everyone. He carried the only picture he saw of his child‚ the three month sonogram.

Rick was finally settling down as best as a gypsy tanker pilot could. He always had his personal phone book and cell phone with him. They were his link to his family and friends. He talked to his wife Liz at least once a day. The reason for calling would be as little as telling a joke or just to say hi again. He was able to help her with plumbing problems and talk her through resetting the well pump over the phone.

It was hard to be away from home now that he had a family to come home to. Rick called Liz many times while she was out camping with her family. Rick told Liz that he would take the time off next year and go camping with him. His family likes to think that he will be there in spirit‚ his son who was named after Rick will be there. And to look at Ricky’s little face‚ it is clear that he resembles his Daddy.

Still with all this wonderful blessing in his life it would have been hard if not impossible for Rick to leave his work. Like the other men in the air tanker business it was in his blood. For a pilot this job was the most challenging and the most rewarding. While working toward a home based business of flight instruction and aircraft maintenance‚ he still was talking to Liz about how she and the baby could travel with him next season. Liz knew that would be a challenge but she knew she would do it with Rick’s encouragement. Rick was going to teach her to fly in his personal plane. They made a good team. They were soul mates that were determined to overcome all obstacles.

Rick lived in the here and now. He had a sympathetic nature and enjoyed all that life offered. He enjoyed being the center stage‚ yet it did not bother him to step aside to let someone else have a turn in the limelight and he was kind to those he thought were underdogs. He was fun and when he smiled his whole face lit up. The spirit of Rick went to another place‚ leaving this place darker. He was loved and will be remembered.

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  1. God is gentle with the loved ones of fallen heroes. I just watched as a slurry bomb pilot dropped his bright orange load of retardant on what must be a fire near Bonner. This time of year I often think of that day fifteen years ago today. I hope you take solace Liz Schwartz in knowing the tears you shed are not shed alone. God knew the blessing that had been taken from you. He knew your hurt and anguish. He knew your loss. He held you in the palms of his hands and many blessings were bestowed that day. Kathy Carte Ward and I went with you to the marina to make the call. I was there for my physical strength to catch you when you were given the news and carry you when you could not walk. Your older sister was there for her strength in literally every other way. Your mother’s arms awaited you in a camper by the lake. Your fathers stoic unshakable support and love stood at the ready. Your brothers and sister, their husbands and wives and their children were all there sharing your tears. I will never forget the raw anguish, sorrow and overwhelming greif I witnessed that day nor the love and support that held it at bay. Your husband Rick lost his life doing something he loved and believed in, he made a difference in many lives. He stared danger in the eye and never wavered. You little sister gave him that which made him happiest…your love and that which gave him the most pride… you made him a father. The small Colorado town the fire threatened was so at risk Rick dropped a load right down the center of mainstreet. Months later when Ricky Lee Schwartz your son and his father’s namesake was born the town sent truckloads of toys and necessities and love. The loss of your husband was blanketed in love. The birth of your and his son was heralded with love. The blessings rained down like teardrops from heaven that day.
    And By God! ? I’ve no doubt the Rick’s toothy, ear to ear grin…shines down on you and Ricky Lee….each and every day.

    – Daniel Carte