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Tragedy Strikes Arizona Fire Crew

PRESCOTT, Ariz. ( TheStreet) -- On Sunday June 30, 19 members of Prescott Fire's Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire here in Yavapai County, where I live.

Yavapai County is about 100 miles north of Phoenix and is probably most known for the towns of Sedona and Prescott. This is the largest loss of firefighter lives in a wildfire in 80 years.

In addition to my work as an investment manager, I have also been volunteering as a firefighter since 2003 and was appointed Fire Chief of the Walker Fire Protection Association about a year and a half ago. The Prescott fire community is regarded as a national model for interagency cooperation for bringing together local, state and federal resources.

On May 22 of this year I was first on scene shortly after midnight to a wildfire I named the Green Gate Fire. Our role in most fires is initial attack and recognizing the resources needed and then calling in those resources. Within 90 minutes we had the first of two U.S. Forest Service hot shot crews on scene (different crews than the Granite Mountain Crew) and shortly thereafter we had support from the Central Yavapai Fire Department and Arizona State Forestry Division.

The Green Gate Fire had a positive outcome due, in part, to luck but also because all of these disparate agencies knew each other from off-season interagency training and that our radios all had the same frequencies.

In any training exercise or actual incident the top priority spelled out in the briefing is life safety. All wildland firefighters carry an Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG) as a safety reference tool. Part of the process upon starting to work on a fire is establishing LCES, which stands for lookouts, communications, escape routes and safety zones.

On a large crew there will be one or two firefighters stationed to act as lookouts watching for any changes in fire behavior or changes in factors that could influence fire behavior like wind or other weather. The escape route is often the same way that the crew came in and a true safety zone is a large open area determined by the size of the fire -- but in reality there will be very few true safety zones on a forested mountain.

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