Last alarm for 19 of Prescott Arizona’s elite firefighting squad


Credit: Heroes Memorial Foundation, Inc.

PRESCOTT, AZ – Nineteen firefighters were killed in Arizona Sunday, fighting one of the deadliest blazes in history.

The firefighters were members of an elite “hotshot” crew, calling themselves the ‘Granite Mountain Hotshots.’ There task was to dig a firebreak to create an escape route.

According to Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, Art Morrison. ”A hotshot crew are the elite firefighters. They’re usually a 20-person crew, and they’re the ones who actually go in and dig the fire line, cut the brush to make a fuel break. And so they would be as close to the fire as they felt they safely could.”

One of the fallen Andrew Ashcraft Credit: Facebook - In Memory of Prescott FF

One of the fallen
Andrew Ashcraft
Credit: Facebook – In Memory of Prescott FF

Morrison went on to explain, “In normal circumstances, when you’re digging fire line, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up. Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough, and the fire just overtook them.”

The 20 man crew deployed their fire shelters near the town of Yarnell in central Arizona just as the fire started to overtake them. Fire shelters are tent-like structures to help shield firefighters from heat and flames. The flames were too much for the fire shelters killing 19 of the 20 firemen.

The names have been released.

Andrew Ashcraft, 29
Robert Caldwell, 23
Travis Carter, 31
Dustin Deford, 24
Christopher Mackenzie, 30
Eric Marsh, 43
Grant McKee, 21
Sean Misner, 26
Scott Norris, 28
Wade Parker, 22
John Percin, 24
Anthony Rose, 23
Jesse Steed, 36
Joe Thurston, 32
Travis Turbyfill, 27
William Warneke, 25
Clayton Whitted, 28
Kevin Woyjeck, 21
Garret Zuppiger, 27

The Granite Mountain Hotshots recruited only the most elite firefighters to their ranks, requiring candidates to complete a boot camp-style test to prove they were in peak physical condition.

Would-be members must run 1.5 miles in 10 minutes and 35 seconds, complete 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds, 25 push-ups in 60 seconds, and seven pull-ups.

According to the Granite Mountain Hotshot’s website, “We believe in rigorous physical and mental training, which allows us to perform at the optimum level in any location and under any circumstances. We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fire-line tasks. Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common.”

Their training consists of running, hiking, yoga, doing core exercises and weight training.

Problem solving, teamwork, ability to make decisions in a stressful environment and being nice were just some of the attributes sought after in a candidate.

This elite organization of firefighters was established in 2002.

Individuals carried 50-70 pounds on their back, hiked seven miles or more to where they needed to work, and worked up to 14 hours, sometimes longer. The average age of the men in the hotshot crew was 22-years-old.

Prescott Fire Department spokesman Wade Ward said, “They have to be ready to leave for an assignment on two hours’ notice, which sometimes means missing family events. They have to be prepared to be on that assignment for 21 days, get two days rest at home, and possibly be sent out on another 21-day assignment.” Ward added, “it had to be the perfect storm in order for this to happen.”

The team had recently returned from fighting a wildfire in New Mexico.

The fire, which investigators believe was sparked by lightning, also destroyed more than 200 buildings in the town, which is home to about 700 people.

“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement on Sunday. “It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work. The risk is well-known to the brave men and women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame.

“When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind. God bless them all.”

President Obama said in a statement praised firefighters as “heroes — highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.”

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