For decades, Luther Dean Bonner’s act of bravery had been largely forgotten.
But the fallen Seattle Firefighter is now the namesake of the new rescue and fire station at King County International Airport/Boeing Field, and his story will be memorialized for decades to come.
During a ceremony this week at the Airport, King County dedicated the new Luther Dean Bonner Memorial Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting Station (ARFF). Among the 170+ people in attendance were members of Bonner’s family, who visited the brand new mural hanging inside the station that tells the dramatic story of his sacrifice. King County Council Chair Joe McDermott – who introduced legislation last year to name the new facility after Bonner and whose district includes Boeing Field – served as emcee. (You can watch our Facebook Live of the event.)
“This dedication and celebration should also serve as a reminder and recognition of all first responders who put their lives on the line, for all of us, each and every day.”
King County elected officials also recognized the contributions of three local firefighters who have passed away after influential careers that improved public safety.
As bagpipers performed ceremonial hymns honoring the firefighters, those in attendance packed the station’s engine bay to hear from the local firefighting community. Speakers included:
- King County Sheriff John Urquhart
- Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins
- Tukwila Fire Chief Jay C. Wittwer
- Boeing Fire Chief Scott Harmier
- Seattle Fire Department Union President Kenny Stuart
- Retired Seattle Firefighter Dave Peery
- Representing the Bonner Family: Jamin Allen Trevino
- Representing the Family of Tukwila Firefighter Jason Karwhite: Sandy Karwhite
It was an emotional and uplifting day for members of the local firefighting community and their families.
The heroic story of Luther Dean Bonner
At the height of World War II, as Boeing was testing a plane that would eventually become the B-29 Bomber, a prototype crashed into a meatpacking plant adjacent to Boeing Field.
On Feb. 18, 1943, Bonner and other members of Seattle Fire’s Truck No. 1 were called to the Frye and Company Meat Packing Plant. Bonner died while battling the fire in the warehouse. The plane’s pilot and 10 members of the flight crew, along with 20 workers inside the plant, were also killed.
Bonner never received a proper tribute for a fallen firefighter. His cemetery plot never bore his name, and his story has been largely forgotten for the past 70 years.
It wasn’t until 2009 – after retired Seattle Firefighter and historian Dave Peery researched Bonner’s story – that he received a proper tribute.
The County Council voted to name the station in his honor after hearing testimony from Sheriff Urquhart, Seattle Firefighter Union President Kenny Stuart, Peery and King County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Lon Shook.
Honoring other influential firefighters
Three members from the Airport’s neighboring fire districts – all of whom provide mutual aid during emergencies – also received recognition:
- Firefighter Jason Karwhite served his community as a firefighter for over 18 years. As a Tukwila Firefighter, Karwhite recognized the need for close coordination with surrounding jurisdictions, including the King County International Airport. He humbly initiated a partnership with the Airport that has led to increased resiliency and strong working relationships within our community. He passed away in 2014.
- Capt. Erve Monroe dedicated his life to serving his community as a firefighter and was a relentless advocate for those he served alongside. He will be remembered for his dedication to strengthening the partnership between the Boeing Fire Department and first responders in neighboring communities, including King County International Airport. He passed away in 2016.
- Sgt. Lloyd Black began with the King County Airport Police Department and went on to spend the next 30 years serving the King County International Airport until his retirement in July 2004. He was instrumental in upgrading the airport’s fire apparatus. Likewise, he was responsible for keeping the outdated equipment running well beyond their expected life spans. He was also involved in the planning of the original station, as well as subsequent remodels. He passed away in 2004.
Built to meet the needs of one of the busiest non-hub airports in the nation
The new station was built to modern firefighting standards to serve one of the busiest non-hub airports in the United States. Its strategic location next to Boeing Field’s control tower means firefighters can respond immediately to emergencies on and near the runway.
The $5 million construction cost of the 8,500-square-foot facility was almost entirely paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is more energy efficient, and is built to withstand a major earthquake.
The new station is located in the exact location and essentially the same footprint as the previous facility. Even after several remodels, the previous station had become too old and leaky, and its engine bay wasn’t even large enough to hold the airport’s two firetrucks.
And located in the station’s main stairwell is a large mural – created by Airport staff – that pays tribute to the heroism of Bonner almost 75 years ago, along with plaques and remembrances of the other fallen firefighters. Those items will help remind and educate generations to come of those firefighters’ sacrifices.