Esse Quam VideriDarrell Willis, Division Chief of the Prescott Fire Department, informs us
that the following is a letter written earlier this year by Eric Marsh,
Superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who perished with 18
of his fellow crewmembers on the Yarnell Hill Fire. “Eric,” says Division
Chief Willis, “wanted to let others know about who GMIHC is.”
Who are the Granite Mountain Hotshots? This is a simple question with a complex answer. We are many things to many different people.
To our peers, the 111 other Interagency Hotshot Crews in the nation, we are an oddity. In a workforce dominated by Forest Service and other federal crews, we have managed to do the impossible; establish a fully certified IHC program hosted by a municipal fire department. As remarkable and hard-won as this achievement is, we are odd for other reasons, too. We look different. Not because our buggies are white instead of green, but because we smile a lot. We act different. We are positive people. We take a lot of pride in being friendly and working together, not just amongst ourselves, but with other crews, citizens, etc. We are problem solvers. We like to show up to a chaotic and challenging event, and immediately break it down into manageable objectives and present a solution. Quite often, we solve problems for people that they
don’t even know they have. These things are possible because our folks are smart, motivated, and highly trained professionals that don’t see any task as “beneath” them.
To our city coworkers, we are a bit of a mystery. Guys that work in the woods a lot. We are nice, professional, and can assist many different departments with all manner of tasks. We show up when it snows, when something needs to be moved or set up, when it floods, when there are fireworks, when something needs a chainsaw. Most folks might not know we’ve been around for almost 12 years. Our first six years were spent in a building that had no heat or bathrooms, but lots of squirrels and mice. We didn’t complain too much, we just accepted it as necessary in order to fulfill our crazy dream of someday being a hotshot crew. We do a lot of fuels management, both on private property and city owned open space. We use chainsaws to cut the vegetation and then physically drag it to a chipper. It’s loud and dusty. This is a daily occurrence unless we are fighting fire or bad weather. We lead the nation with our fuels management program, having accomplished more than anyone else.
To our families and friends, we’re crazy. Why do we want to be away from home so much, work such long hours, risk our lives, and sleep on the ground 100 nights a year? Simply, it’s the most fulfilling thing any of us have ever done. It is difficult to explain the attraction of such a demanding job. We can show our wives and girlfriends pictures or videos, recount events and tell stories, but we all invariably receive the same blank stare and the obligatory “that’s nice sweetheart” response. It’s not because they don’t care. Our families are the most wonderful, supportive people in the world. It’s just difficult for anyone to grasp the magnitude of suffering and joy that we experience during a given fire season, unless you have been there yourself.
To each other, we are chameleons. On the job, we are workers and supervisors, from no experience to 19 years of ‘hotshotting’ all over the country. Some of us are highly skilled with chainsaws; some have the stamina to swing a hand tool all day. Many of us have lots of experience with helicopters. When on a fire, we average 16 hours a day on shift, every day, for two weeks. We may hike with all of our gear for one to two hours before we get to our piece of fireline where we will start work. We don’t have bathrooms or showers and we eat a lot of bad food. We love it. Off the job, we are husbands, fathers, and boyfriends. We are cowboys, hot rodders, rock climbers, hunters, marathoners and bicycle racers. Due to our work, we have to fit a year’s worth of normal life into a six month period during our winters. It really makes us appreciate the time with our families and pursuing our hobbies.
Maybe to answer the question of who are we, it would be helpful to explore who or what we are not. We are not nameless or faceless, we are not expendable, we are not satisfied with mediocrity, we are not willing to accept being average, we are not quitters.
Is this an all-inclusive answer to the question of who are we? No. Hopefully this is at least a beginning. We are approachable and we have no secrets. We are proud and passionate about our program. These things will show through during a discussion with any of our crewmembers. We don’t just call ourselves hotshots, we are hotshots in everything that we do.