"You can't judge a person till you've walked a mile in their shoes," he said. "If you do the job, you understand the job. That's where the camaraderie comes in."
Being part of the brotherhood doesn't come automatically when someone joins a firefighting crew, Steve Rushing of the Burbank, Calif., Fire Department said. Each has to earn respect and gain the trust of others through hard work and commitment, he said.
McDonough was assigned to give a "heads-up on the hillside" for the team on that fateful afternoon, said Prescott Fire Department spokesman Wade Ward. McDonough notified the crew of the rapidly changing weather that sent winds swirling erratically and caused the fire to cut off his team's escape route, then swiftly left his post for safety.
Ward said it's just been too tough on McDonough, but that "he did exactly what he was supposed to."
The highly specialized crew was part of a small community of Hotshots nationwide, just about 110 of the 20-person teams mostly stationed west of the Mississippi River.
Tuesday's memorial was the last of a handful of vigils for the men before the first of 19 funerals begin later in the week.
Ron Merrell, pastor of Heights Church, asked for comfort in an opening prayer, saying the past week has felt like "hell on Earth," leaving the families and firefighting community broken, confused, hurt and numb. He held up the firefighters as heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice not only in death but in life.
Two tolls of a bell rang out as each firefighter's name was called, and a member of his family stood up in the audience.
An honor guard that included alumni of the Granite Mountain Hotshots carried U.S. flags and Pulaski tools through the aisles, turning to face the family members who accepted the items on behalf of the firefighters. Some of the family members then hugged others next to them, as the men's pictures flashed on screens overhead and the choir began singing "You Raise Me Up."
Other photos showed the men playing with their children, with their family at Disneyland, riding bikes, carrying crew members on their backs, hanging out at camp and in close encounters with fire.
Biden offered the families some solace as he wrapped up his remarks.
"As unbelievable as it is to even fathom ... the day will come when the memory of your husband, your son, or your dad or your brother will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye," he said. "My prayer for all of you is that that day will come sooner than later, but I promise you as unbelievable as it is, it will come."