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Tragedy Strikes Arizona Fire Crew

Another key safety phrase is "situational awareness." While the phrase is self-explanatory, the list of "watch outs" is long and includes threats overhead like dead trees falling, threats on the ground that you encounter in Arizona like rattlesnakes and scorpions, debris like log rounds rolling down hill at an accelerating rate, remaining properly hydrated, not mention the actual fire. The list goes on.

Local news here in Arizona is reporting the wind changed direction, which caused the fire to surround the Granite Mountain Hot Shots. All wildland firefighters carry a fire shelter for this sort of circumstance. Although it is possible to survive a shelter deployment, survival is a low probability. Practicing how to use the shelter is part of the annual "refresher" training that we all take every spring before the fire season starts.

Fighting wildfires is very physically demanding. The terrain is almost always very steep, the minimum personal protection equipment or PPE is very heavy to wear, the tools to do the job are heavy and the hours are very long. My shift on the above mentioned Green Gate Fire lasted from 12:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., although we did get two hours off in the middle of the day.

That was the longest shift by far I've ever had on a fire by eight hours and the steepest terrain after 10 years of volunteering. For an all-volunteer department the work was fun and will make for great memories. A one local news reporter put it, the Hot Shots are the Navy Seals of the wildland community, and they routinely put it 16 hour days for two weeks at a time on large Type 1 fires like are currently going on in Colorado. Yesterday the Yarnell Hill Fire was also escalated to a Type 1 incident.

It is truly a privilege to be able to do this work even as a volunteer and it has been my honor to meet so many quality people in the field, including some of those lost yesterday.

The nature of how firefighting training evolves is such that this tragedy will be studied for years to come and training improved because of it. This, of course, offers no solace to the families of those lost but will help reduce loss of life in future fires.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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