Firefighters may be the last group of heroes to all. The image we have of them rushing toward danger to protect the life and property of people they don’t even know is not exaggerated—it’s simply accurate.
The deaths of 19 members of a “hotshot” team in Arizona on Sunday capture all that is true about these remarkable members of our communities.
A picture of the Granite Mountain Hotshots is posted on a Facebook page set up in their memory. They are young, supremely fit, healthy people posed with wide open mountains behind them.
They couldn’t look more wholesome or ready to come to the rescue of whoever needs them. The people who choose to do this exciting, dangerous, important and too-often deadly work make us proud that we can produce such citizens, generation after generation.
As their Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told reporters the night that he lost one fifth of his squad, “These are the guys that will go out there with 40, 50 pounds of equipment and walk five miles. They’ll sleep out there as they try to develop fire lines” to protect people and homes.
It’s unbearable to think of what they experienced as the Yarnell Hill fire near Phoenix shifted course and overran their safety zone. Even the last-ditch effort to shelter in survival blankets couldn’t save even one of them.
We don’t need to be reminded that June 30 was the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since the 9/11 attacks to know this is a big moment, an event that will linger in our thinking and remembrance.
The tragedy resonates throughout the firefighting community in Wyoming and touches all of us who watch in horror as our beautiful forests blaze up into horrifying purple and black funnels of smoke.
The Wyoming teams are trained, equipped and ready as we head into a hot, dry, windy summer.
We are a state that has experienced fires that incinerated huge swaths of Yellowstone National Park and caused major destruction on Casper Mountain twice in the past decade; we know how much we depend on the courage and grueling hard work of firefighters.
And, if common sense doesn’t tell us how we should feel about firefighters, a poll done in Casper in the past four years gives us the numbers: Firefighters have positive ratings that leave all other public employees in the dust.
There is so little we can do in the face of tragedy that has to be on the minds of all of our own fire crews as they head into the July Fourth weekend.
We can recognize both the loss of the Arizona firefighters, and renew our admiration for our friends and neighbors who train to fight fires that can be the result of hot summer conditions or even of intentional arson.
We can realize that all the warnings our fire departments put out this time of year about fire safety are dead serious; mistakes in our tinder-dry outdoors can have terrible consequences.
And while we memorialize the firefighters, we can be safe with fire; that could be the best way to honor the “hotshots” who fight our fires for us.