Firefighters at risk with each blaze they battle
Oftentimes, we take for granted the risks undertaken each day by those in our community who work for public safety agencies.
The deaths of 19 firefighters Sunday as they fought a lightning-sparked blaze near Yarnell, Ariz., was a stark reminder of how dangerous those jobs can be.
The Granite Mountain Hotshot crew had undergone special training to fight wildfires such as this one, removing brush and trees in the path of wildfires. In fact, according to a Cronkite News Service report, the name “hotshot” comes from the hottest part of the fire, the place where these crews usually work.
The team was known for its history of safe fire suppression tactics. The team was highly trained, with the knowledge and ability to dig a firebreak and create an escape route.
However, with a simple shift of the wind, a situation can turn perilous.
The 19 near Yarnell had deployed fire shelters, which are tent-like safety devices designed to deflect the heat, in an effort to stay alive. It's an emergency measure undertaken when other efforts to escape falter. While the investigation is ongoing, officials say it appears the crew was following safety protocols.
Firefighters risk their lives every day that they don their protective gear. In 2012 alone, 83 firefighters lost their lives while on duty across the United States, 11 of whom were killed while fighting wildland fires such as the one in Yarnell, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Cronkite News Service interviewed the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2012. At the time, they noted that the firefighters were like a family.
“In any other job you don't have to worry about your life day in and day out. But in this job, you have to watch your buddy, too,” said one squad leader.
Firefighters fill an essential role in keeping our communities and families secure, facing danger head-on while others flee to safety.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the 19 who gave their lives this weekend.