The staggering loss of 19 firefighters in Arizona Sunday is yet another reminder of the dangers faced by our first responders.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, Ariz., were an elite, highly trained unit, but they were no match for the out-of-control wildfire near Yarnell. A sudden change in wind direction sent the flames racing toward the crew. They deployed emergency shelters, but the thin protection was overwhelmed by the inferno.
The Hotshots were among the thousands of first responders across the nation willing to risk their lives to protect the public, but the Hotshots had further requirements. According to the Hotshot website: “Our common bond is our love of hard work and arduous adventure. … Problem solving, teamwork, ability to make decisions in a stressful environment and being nice are the attributes of our crew members.”
The two youngest crew members were just 21: Kevin Woyjeck, the son of a Los Angeles County Fire Department captain, and Woyjeck’s cousin, Grant McKee. The oldest was crew chief Eric Marsh, 43.
The brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighters means that every firefighter, whether woodland or urban, professional or volunteer, feels this loss acutely. Every one, trained to face the innate hazards of a job that requires them to risk their own lives and safety to preserve the lives and property of others, understands that it could be them the next time.
The firefighter family has turned out through the years to honor Buffalo firefighters who also made the ultimate sacrifice.
In 2009, Lt. Charles “Chip” McCarthy and Firefighter Jonathan Croom died when they went into a burning deli because they thought someone was trapped inside. Firefighter Donald J. Herbert died in 2006 of injuries suffered nearly 11 years earlier when a roof collapsed on him during a fire.
And in the worst day in the history of the Buffalo Fire Department, five firefighters died in 1983 in a North Division Street propane explosion that also killed two civilians.
The wakes and funerals of these men were attended by thousands of fellow firefighters. The funerals for the Prescott firefighters will be similarly thronged. The bereaved families can be proud of the legacy left by their loved ones, who put themselves in the path of a raging wildfire.
At a memorial service Monday night, Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said: “Those families lost. The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost, the state of Arizona and the nation lost.”
There’s an old saying that firefighters are the ones who run into a burning building as everyone else is running out. Let’s reflect on that as we honor the sacrifice of the heroes who have given their lives to protect others and remember that many more are risking their lives every day.