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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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10/16/2008 11:32:00 PM
Prescott is first city with Hotshot crew
The Hot Shots cut down a burning snag on the Tahoe National Forest during the American River Complex Fire last June.

The Hot Shots cut down a burning snag on the Tahoe National Forest during the American River Complex Fire last June.

The Hot Shots pose outside of Crescent City, Calif., while on their way home from a fire in Oregon.

The Hot Shots pose outside of Crescent City, Calif., while on their way home from a fire in Oregon.

Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - When the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain wildland firefighting crew members found out that they had become the first municipal Hotshot crew in the nation, they took a moment to tear the little "t" off their rig and then immediately set off on a rugged hike to the fire line in the heart of California's Klamath National Forest.

That "t" stood for "trainee," a label they had worn for two years while working hard to earn the elite title of Type I Interagency Hotshot Crew.

This season alone, they responded to 13 wildfires in four states while also helping Prescott residents create wildfire-defensible space on 95 acres around 12 homes. And they spent 2,000 hours in the classroom.

By the time they heard the big news last month via a call from the home department, they had been training for five years and waiting 3.5 months to hear whether the federal government had approved their request for certification.

Granite Mountain Hotshots Superintendent Eric Marsh was getting worried that much of his crew would disband for the season before the news arrived. Eight of the 20 members have year-round jobs.

Soon the news spread, and it felt great when other Hotshot crews that had supported their efforts told them they deserved the title.

His crew's motto comes from his college motto: Esse Quam Verdi (To Be, Rather Than To Seem).

The concept of a well-trained Hotshot crew originated with the U.S. Forest Service in California in 1947, and today 85 crews are certified. Only four are based outside of the federal government, and the other three are state or county based.

It is only appropriate for Prescott to join the Hotshot ranks, since it is the oldest city fire department in Arizona - established in 1885. The city also was the first in Arizona to adopt a wildland-urban interface building code that requires wildfire-defensible construction on homes.

"I would consider us to be a proactive department with a lot of tradition," said Eric Kriwer, fire investigator in the fire prevention division. He noted that wildfires are the biggest threat to the City of Prescott.

The Hotshot certification was a long-standing dream of Prescott Fire Chief Darrell Willis, and it was kind of a pipe dream at first, Marsh recalled.

He remembers the first day of training the crew to dig a fire line in 2004.

"At the end of the first day it was like, 'How is this going to happen?' But they worked their butts off and they were eager to learn," Marsh related.

Just about a month later, they worked their first major wildfire outside of the Prescott Basin, and Marsh was so proud of them.

The crew put out the Rock Fire on rugged Bill Williams Mountain all by itself, recalled Duane Steinbrink, wildland division chief on the department.

"We hiked in and just took care of it," Marsh said. "I think it was the first time we knew it would be OK, no matter what."

The crew began as a brush management crew in 2001, and by 2002 it had become a regional firefighting crew during the wildfire season.

Crewmembers range in age from 19 to 39 and come from Prescott as well as other states and Canada. But they all have one thing in common.

"It's pretty much a job for the young at heart - and slightly demented," Marsh said.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 01, 2013
Article comment by: Jennifer Carter

Prayers for the families, friends and community of Prescott. May God send his Army of Angels to provide comfort to all in need. I can't imagine.... my heart hurts for the families. Prayers will continue!

Posted: Monday, July 01, 2013
Article comment by: Carlton Bridges

My heart sinks at a time like this. My oldest son is a "jumper" for the Forest Service in Texas, and this hit close. God embrace these brave souls.
CWB 0509

Posted: Monday, July 01, 2013
Article comment by: Katy Cusick

Praying for all of you. Your firefighters are our firefighters. Fifteen hundred firefighters helped on the Waldo Canyon fire last year and when the smoke column collapsed into a fire tornado, there could have been a similar tragedy then. We now know, personally, how they all come to help whenever they are called from across the country. They put their lives on the line every day and our gratitude can never be fully expressed. We remember the Storm King fire crew as well. Our hearts break for you. We will never forget them.

Posted: Monday, July 01, 2013
Article comment by: Jennifer Harris

God bless your souls and bring your families comfort in their sorrow.

Posted: Monday, July 01, 2013
Article comment by: Missy d'Angelo

God blessed each member of this crew. They're heros that died too soon, doing what they loved. May they rest in eternal peace.

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2013
Article comment by: Sheri Carter

Rest in Peace brothers. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2008
Article comment by: Larry L

Congrads on the accomplishment, your hard work has paid off...continued success and be careful.

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2008
Article comment by: Erica Ryberg

Joanna, great story. Love the writing!

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