Dedication planned April 22 for memorial honoring four firefighters killed in 1954 Jenkins Mountain fire

Published 8:07 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

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In July 2021, Seth Whitehead, for his Eagle Scout project, decided to raise funds for a permanent memorial for the four firefighters killed in the February 1954 Jenkins Mountain Fire.
In 2020 Kenneth Howard Nave, a Siam resident and uncle of one of the fallen firefighters, had suggested a local memorial be built for the four young men – Kenneth Pierce, Bobby Simerly, Jerry Woods, and Herman Carden – who perished in the fire. The four had been recruited by young Simerly’s father, Will Simerly, to fight the fire.
Sometime after that, Sen. Rusty Crowe introduced a resolution in the Tennessee State Senate commending Nave for his efforts to honor the memories of the four young men.
The young men had gone to fight flames caused by a man burning a sage grass field behind his house. The fire burned out of control and quickly spread. A strong wind pushed the fire upslope and the fire crowned. The firefighters were caught on the slope above the fire and were overrun. Simerly was 15 years old and Pierce, Woods, and Carden were 19 years old.
Young Whitehead undertook the project in 2021 to raise funds to purchase a memorial for the four young men, hoping to locate it at the Hampton-Valley Forge Fire Department. His first endeavor was a car show to raise funds for the memorial. Since then he has had a number of setbacks, but, finally, Seth and Troop 516 Boy Scouts of Elizabethton completed the project in February of this year, and the monument is now on display at the Hampton Volunteer Fire Department.
The dedication of the memorial will be on April 22 at 5 p.m. at the  Hampton Volunteer Fire Department, 401 Fourth Avenue, Hampton.
Whitehead said the monument honors the bravery and valor of the four fallen firefighters, who were just young men.
The memorial consists of two stone monuments, four small foot markers with the names of the fallen firefighters. The first monument is a stone bench engraved with the names and ages of the fallen firefighters in addition to the date of the fire – Feb. 27, 1954, along with the logos of Boy Scouts of America, TN Division of Forestry, and the Hampton-Valley Forge Fire Department.
The second monument is a slated stone monument with an outline of Jenkins Mountain and an arrow which marks the spot where the tragedy took place. Also the Bible verse: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isa. 6:8 is engraved on the marker in honor of the four young men who went that day to protect their community.
Young Whitehead’s father is Capt. Greg Whitehead, a fire investigator with the TN Division of Forestry.
Seth Whitehead is a student at Elizabethton High School. His scouting career began as a cub scout in elementary school. He went through the cub scout ranks and then joined the Boy Scouts. He is now a Life Scout in Troop 516 in Elizabethton.
All family members of the four young men and the public are invited to the monument dedication. Also, county and state leaders are invited to attend.
Many in the community still remember that tragic Saturday and the days in early March that followed as the community grieved for the young men.
All four boys who perished in the fire lived in the Siam Community.

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