Assistant Helena Fire Chief Sean Logan was never one to frequent the local cemeteries until he realized the graves went along with his adoration of history, especially that of the fire department.
“It really is the sort of place where you can reach back into the past,” Logan said.
At least 30 former firefighters are buried in Forestvale Cemetery alone. During a recent research undertaking, Logan found one of the fallen comrades had an unmarked grave.
Through much research of burial records, newspaper clippings and the assistance of others, Logan located the grave of William F. Smith and subsequently worked to get it marked properly.
“I thought it was a shame he had no headstone,” he said.
Smith was a “competent and fearless” firefighter, according to his obituary. A 20-year veteran with the Helena Fire Department, Smith was known as one of the most efficient.
Smith emigrated from England to Helena in the 1880s. Logan was able to run down naturalization records and other paperwork in order to track the history.
Smith never married and had no relatives in the country. When his health failed and he became an invalid, his fellow firefighters took care of him.
“They were his family,” Logan said.
The last six years of his life, Smith lived at the fire station. In 1913, he committed suicide by drinking bed-bug poison at the age of 50.
About a year ago, a question from a Montana Highway Patrol trooper posed to Logan regarding departed firefighters set off a long chain of events. These culminated Smith’s new headstone.
Helena firefighters collected funds to purchase the marker. Montana Granite Industries etched a headstone and made it affordable, Logan said.
“It should stay here a while,” he added, while wiping the newly fallen leaves from the tombstone.