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PHOENIX -- Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a memorial service on Tuesday for the 19 firefighters who were killed while battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire.

"They were heroes...long before we knew their names," Biden said.

During the emotional speech, Biden told the story of how firefighters saved his life and the lives of his sons when the family was involved in a car crash in 2008. Biden's wife and daughter were killed.

Biden went on to say that firefighters are a special breed of person that redefine what words such as valor, bravery and courage.

"All men are created equal but then a few became firefighters. Thank God for you all," he said.

Biden said the families of the fallen firefighters should also be honored, as they made sacrifices everyday that often go unappreciated or unnoticed.

"Every time they walked out the door, you knew it may be the last time you'd see that confident smile, feel that tender touch, hear that voice saying 'I love you,'" he said. "From the time they breached the door, you lived in fear of dreaded phone call."

Throughout the speech, Biden emphasized that the hotshots were "elite in every sense of the phrase," and that anyone could "just look in their eyes to understand the courage of valor."

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