Local crews respond to the loss of Arizona's firefighters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The death of 19 firefighters on the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshot crew in Arizona fighting the Yarnell Hill fire is touching the community of firefighters across the country-- including those in Kansas and Missouri.

The brotherhood of firefighters is a close bond. One crew of three men from the Johnson County Fire District No. 1 just returned home from fighting the Black Forest fire in Colorado.

That fire station has about a dozen firefighters trained to fight wild land fires and is one of the few groups trained to do so in the Kansas/Missouri area.

"They did just like my crew did a couple of weeks ago. The call comes in, you load your stuff on the truck, you kiss your wife and your family good bye and you do your best to bring everybody back," Trig Morley, Johnson County Fire District No. 1 Battalion Chief, said.

He says hot shot crews have thousands of hours of training which specializes in fighting wildfires and says they dedicate much of that time to safety procedures. The crews are known as the Navy Seals of firefighters.
"To get hotshot status, type one status, for hand crews it's years and years and years of work," Morley said.

According to Morely, those crews fight the fires right on the fire line with tools like hoes, axes and chainsaws. He said they carry a backpack with about 20 pounds of equipment including flares, water and a fire shelter.

Morley described the fire shelter as a heavy-duty, aluminized material. The shelter costs hundreds of dollars and is like a blanket that the firefighter can wrap themselves in as a last resort option if he or she is caught in the flames.

Reports show that the hotshot crews' bodies were recovered Monday and that they had tried to protect themselves in the fire shelters.

"What we have asked that everyone do today is take a moment to reflect," Dr. Richard Gist of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Principal Assistant to the Kansa City Fire Department Fire Chief said.

Gist has walked dozens of people though tragedies and says firefighters usually know at least one family who has suffered a loss.

"Every firefighter who goes to work every day knows that it could be his family tonight," Gist said.

He went on to say that helping those families know their neighbors are concerned is one of the most important things anyone can do for them right now.

"The thing the families have to lean on at this moment is that they are surrounded by that amount of concern both in their immediate neighborhoods in the very first hours and that will be on an on-going basis," Gist said.

Here is a look at some of the deadliest U.S. tragedies to have claimed the lives of wild land firefighters, including the 19 killed in the Arizona blaze Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

— June 30, 2013: Nineteen members of an elite crew are killed in a fire northwest of Phoenix that lit up the night sky in the forest above the town of Yarnell. The fast-moving blaze fueled by hot, dry conditions is the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.

— Aug. 5, 2008:  Nine people were killed when a helicopter crashed shortly after taking off with a load of firefighters heading back to camp in Northern California. Seven of the dead were firefighters with Grayback Forestry Inc. The crew was fighting a forest fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest outside Redding, Calif.

— Aug. 24, 2003: Eight contract firefighters who had spent two weeks fighting an Idaho wildfire were killed on their way home when their van collided with a tractor-trailer and exploded into flames outside Vale, Ore. The firefighters, all men, worked for First Strike Environmental, a contract firefighting company and all were from Oregon.

— July 6, 1994: A blaze near Glenwood Springs, Colo., killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames. The lightning-sparked Storm King Mountain blaze roared through shrubs as the firefighters scrambled uphill.  Thirty-five firefighters on the mountain that day survived.

— July 9, 1953: The Rattlesnake fire in Southern California took the lives of 15 firefighters battling a blaze in Mendocino National Forest.

— Aug. 5, 1949: The Mann Gulch fire near Helena, Mont., killed 12 smokejumpers and a forest ranger after they were overrun by flames.

— Oct. 3, 1933: The Griffith Park wildfire in Los Angeles killed 29 firefighters.

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