This past week, the Prescott (Arizona) Fire Department was rocked by the Line of Duty Deaths (LODD) of 19 members of a wildfire “Hotshot” team. Not since the attacks of 9/11 have so many firefighters died protecting lives and property in a single incident. Not since 1933 have so many died fighting a wildfire. These firefighters were battling the Yarnell Hill fire outside of Prescott when conditions changed more rapidly than they could react to, and their position was overrun.
We all appreciate firefighters when we need them. Often, firefighters are taken for granted when we don’t. If you’re sitting about the table or at a family gathering and you discuss jobs, careers, and the things that make us enjoy our daily lives, spend a moment remembering these selfless individuals who gave everything so that the people they were working for might be spared from tragedy.
Firefighters are not thrill seekers. Firefighters are not living on the public’s dime. Firefighters tend to be focused, competitive, and team oriented individuals who want to extend their experiences beyond the ordinary. Ask any firefighter and they’ll tell you that one of the things they enjoy most about their jobs is the variety. Every day is different. Every day presents a new challenge.
Firefighting is not only challenging, it’s life threatening. To extend yourself and be accepted as a firefighter takes patience, physical agility, mental preparation, and sacrifice. That doesn’t mean firefighters have a death wish – far from it. But it does mean they are willing to put their lives on the line so the people and communities they protect will be safer from any threat that puts anyone at risk.
Firefighters who attack wildfires are a special sort of first responder. An Interagency hotshot crew (IHC), or more commonly called hotshot crew gets their name because they are dropped into the hottest locations of a wind-driven fire to stop it in its tracks. They do so without the comforts of beds, showers, or hot meals. They love it because being a hotshot firefighter means thinking as a group, solving problems, and overcoming one of nature’s most unpredictable adversaries: wildfire. And that is what the Granite Mountain Hotshots were doing on June 30, 2013.
These 19 men, young, middle aged, fathers, expectant fathers, former marines, husbands, sons and brothers did their jobs to the moment the wildfire overran their position. The fire service will study and learn from this experience – but their sacrifice must be remembered – we must take comfort in knowing there are people out there willing to step up when others may not. The next time you see your local firefighters, smile and wave. Let them know you care. It’s the best type of thanks anyone might ask for.
MySafe:LA educates students, older adults, and families about readiness and survival in the event of fire, earthquake, flood, or other disasters.