In August 1910, “The Big Burn” fire swept the Idaho-Montana border. Volunteer firefighters signed up to fight the overwhelming blaze, including Ed Pulaski, a local Forest Service ranger who bravely led 45 men through the burning forest to aid the town of Wallace, Idaho.
As the fire grew, Pulaski led his men to take cover in an old mine shaft. Emerging the next day, they’d lost five of their men to suffocation and most others were badly wounded. Pulaski himself suffered blinding burns to one eye and permanent lung damage. He sought care for his men from the Forest Service, but it had been largely disbanded under President William Taft and help was not available. Newspapers eventually caught wind of the wounded volunteer firefighters and public outrage erupted. There was a new wave of support for Forest Service reinstatement, which would eventually happen under President Theodore Roosevelt.
Pulaski dedicated the latter part of his life to caring for the graves of the men who died serving with him and petitioning the government for a memorial to be placed near the town of Wallace. In the meantime, he invented what is now known as the Pulaski Axe to help the firefighters of the Forest Service.
He designed the axe to not only chop wood, but to cut roots and dig trenches.
This style of axe is still used widely for its strength and versatility, but that wasn’t Pulaski’s only triumph after his passing.
In 1933, Congress approved a granite memorial to be placed at the site of the deaths of the men who fought alongside him.