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Monday, July 1, 2013

Hotshots: What It’s Like To Be An Elite Firefighter

Members of the Entiat Hotshots, based out of central Washington State, work on a spot still burning near Reserve, N.M., Thursday, June 7, 2012. (Brandon R. Oberhardt/U.S. Forest Service via AP)

Members of the Entiat Hotshots, based out of central Washington State, work on a spot still burning near Reserve, N.M., Thursday, June 7, 2012. (Brandon R. Oberhardt/U.S. Forest Service via AP)

Most of us are learning a new meaning for the term “hotshot,” with the tragic news that 19 firefighters — most of them members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots — died fighting an out-of-control wildfire in Arizona yesterday.

The fire is believed to have been caused by a lightning strike on very dry brush and grass.

“The guys that you’re working with, they’re your best friends. It really becomes a family. It’s also incredibly difficult.”

– Kyle Dickman

Because it was close to the town of Yarnell, Ariz., population 650, officials marshaled an emergency management team and over 200 firefighters, including the elite group of firefighters known as hotshots.

The hotshots were apparently building a fuel break along the eastern edge of the fire when the blaze overtook them.

Kyle Dickman is an associate editor for Outside magazine. He was a hotshot before becoming a magazine editor — he belonged to the Tahoe Hotshot Crew.

“The last time we saw a major fatality like this was 1994,” Dickman told Here & Now. “So I think it’s very hard for the community.”

Dickman, who started fighting forest fires when he was 18, says there are about 117 hotshot crews nationwide.

Although the hotshots are based in different communities around the country, they are deployed like soldiers, to wherever there is a major blaze. Dickman describes hotshots as “the frontline troops.”

“They are the guys who go into the biggest blazes and fight the most dangerous part of the biggest fires in the country,” Dickman said.

Hotshots’ jobs — needless to say — are incredibly demanding, making the community of hotshots tight-knit.

“It’s simultaneously the best and the worst job I’ve ever had in my life,” Dickman said. “The guys that you’re working with, they’re your best friends. It really becomes a family. It’s also incredibly difficult. And I think that’s part of the reason you get to be so close to these guys, is you’re out there, working 18 hours a day.”

Despite the great tragedy of 19 lives lost so suddenly, Dickman hopes everyone remembers that the Granite Mountain Hotshots were doing what they loved.

“They really do love their jobs,” Dickman said.

Guest:


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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