The memorial in Prescott Valley began with a choir singing "On Eagle's Wings." Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano looked on, as did Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, and other members of the state's congressional delegation.
Biden talked about the 1972 death of his wife and young daughter in a traffic crash, and how firefighters freed his sons from the mangled wreckage.
"I don't have the privilege of knowing any of these heroes personally, but I know them. I know them because they saved the lives of my two sons," Biden told the crowd. He also said firefighters rushed him to a hospital after he suffered an aneurysm in 1998. And he credited firefighters with saving his wife Jill after lightning once struck their home.
Gov. Jan Brewer praised people around the country for responding as she hoped they would — with candlelight vigils, financial contributions, prayers, and flowers and notes placed at makeshift memorials.
"Of course our hearts are filled with profound sadness today, but they're also filled with great pride," she said. "How wonderful is it to know that Arizona was home to 19 men like those we honor today."
Outside the minor league hockey arena, each of the 19 firefighters was represented by a U.S. flag and a purple ribbon with his name. A granite marker read: "In honor and recognition of all wildland firefighters across this great nation. Duty - Respect - Integrity."
Inside, 19 sets of firefighting gear lined the front of the stage, including commemorative Pulaski tools similar to the ones the elite crew uses to dig lines around fires.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo gave the tools to the firefighters' families, along with flags that had been flown in the men's honor.
Roughly 8,000 people attended the memorial, most inside, while several thousand watched it outside on jumbo screens. Alumni of the Granite Mountain Hotshots sat inside in the front rows.