Firefighter artist honors comrades with sculpture

LARAMIE — At a training facility out of public view off Highway 287, local firefighters conduct exercises to prepare for all types of emergencies. Now those firefighters are greeted by a massive steel sculpture commemorating the work they do to protect the community. 

Local firefighter Brandon Russell collaborated with Laramie Public Art Coalition to create the sculpture, titled “The Vitruvian Firefighter.” The large metal work is a nod to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing “The Vitruvian Man,” said Laura Zorch McDermit, LPAC executive director. 

Da Vinci’s original features a man with arms and legs spread with a circle drawn around the perimeter of his body. Similarly, “The Vitruvian Firefighter” features a firefighter in protective gear in the same pose. 

Russell installed the three-dimensional, 9-foot tall steel sculpture outside the Laramie Fire Department’s Public Safety Training Center on Wednesday. Fellow firefighters, friends and family gathered to watch Russell and his coworkers lift the structure from a trailer onto the concrete slab that would become its home.

“It looks even better than I thought,” Russell said, taking a break from drilling holes in the concrete to assess his work. 

He explained that da Vinci’s “The Vitruvian Man” represents an idealized version of a man, while his own sculpture does the same with a firefighter. 

“Helping people with their arms wide open is the essence of a firefighter,” Russell said. “It’s hollow, so it could be anybody, man or woman.”

Russell first came to the University of Wyoming to study fine arts in 2008 and focused on sculpting, although he also paints and draws. While he graduated with a bachelor’s degree, Russell said he experienced a common situation for arts graduates when he struggled to find a career in the field. 

“It’s hard to find a job with a degree in fine arts for a lot of people,” Russell said. “I did not expect that my 9-to-5 or my job that pays the bills was going to end up blending into what my education was based on.” 

Over the course of two months, the artist took hours out of each day to weld the sculpture. While Russell studied art, he never expected to get an opportunity to intersect his two passions as a sculptor and firefighter. 

“It’s a really good feeling because I’ve been working relentless hours welding, bending metal and fabricating,” Russell said of finishing the project. “It’s been pretty gruesome in the hot sun, but I’m super stoked to have it (completed).” 

The hard work will pay off, as the sculpture is designed to stand up to the Wyoming weather.

“An immense benefit to my proposed sculpture is that it will be Wyoming-windproof in its design,” Russell wrote in a proposal for the project. “The sculpture will be impervious to strong winds.” 

The firefighters gathered around the sculpture June 29 expressed pride in Russell’s talent and grateful to spruce up their work space. 

“(It’s cool) having one of our own firefighters make it,” said LFD shift commander Gus Stonum. “It shows the creativity in our department.”