Taos Ski Valley is enveloped by Carson National Forest. During the dry months of May and June, we residents become wary of fire danger. We keep an eye on the sky, fearful of lightening strikes, a careless cigarette smoker, or perhaps an uncontrollable campfire that sets off our worst fear: forest fire.
Our Fire Department up here is all volunteer. The only time I’ve seen the fire truck in action was when our volunteers successfully extinguished a small hotel fire this past ski season (which could have been disastrous), and of course every July 4th when it rolls down the parade route, squirting laughing children with water.
Many of our residents are also forest fire fighters during the summer months, rounding out their winter employment on the ski patrol or as ski instructors. Some are even Hot Shots, including our own Alex Mithoefer, who made his debut this summer. He works in The Blonde Bear Tavern’s kitchen during the winter months.
Tragedy at Yarnell Hills Fire
And so we were stunned with the tragic loss of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots near Prescott, Arizona. Our hearts sank and the local talk in our café was nothing but these brave firemen, with names and faces; lives and families. New Mexico and Arizona make up “Region 3” of the National Forest Service, so there is a lot of back and forth between the states, and thus many friendships have been forged.
On July 1st, our Governor Susana Martinez ordered flags throughout New Mexico to be flown at half mast. Just a few weeks prior, members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were in New Mexico to battle the Thompson Ridge fire southwest of here in Jemez. She represented the state at the memorial service held in Prescott Valley.
About Hot Shots
Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) are diverse teams of career and temporary agency employees who uphold a tradition of excellence and have solid reputations as multi-skilled professional firefighters. Crews are available for each fire season and are employed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, various Native American tribes, and the states of Alaska and Utah.
Their core values of “duty, integrity, and respect” have earned Hotshot crews an excellent reputation throughout the United States and Canada as elite teams of professional wildland firefighters.
How You Can Help
My cousin Georgia Burns has been with the Forest Service for over 30 years in the Tonto National Forest office in Mesa, Arizona. This morning, she sent me this e-mail:
Just wanted to pass along this information, it’s another way to help the family members. I am on the same fire team as Darrell (see flyer). He is such a wonderful person, and is the one who started the Granite Mt. Hotshot crew, it’s the only hotshot crew in the U.S. within a structured fire dept.
Thank you for your support, it has been such an emotional couple of weeks. I was so honored to attend the memorial service and cannot begin to put into words all of the love and support that was felt the day of the memorial. Some of us in fire have gotten together at different times just to support each other has really helped. All of our operations folks on my team were the ones who walked in and found the firefighters. They stayed with them that night and then had a CAT cut a line in so they could carry them out. They really have and will continue to struggle through all of this that does not seem real.
Our team is at a stand down so I have been working 12 hour shifts in dispatch which has really helped me to stay busy but yet still be helpful within fire.
Here’s the flyer Georgia is talking about:
The Prescott Hotshots are raising funds for the direct support of the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. This fundraising effort and the shirts are officially sanctioned by the Prescott Hotshots and the Prescott Fire Department. 100% of the proceeds will be given to the families left behind. I ordered mine today and hope you will consider helping out as well.
There is also a Facebook page for the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial.
The Worst Firefighter Disaster since 9-11
It’s been over ten years now since I was in New York and witnessed first hand the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks. At the heart of the story were the firemen. The heroics those men demonstrated were no different from what we have just witnessed here in the Southwest. Perhaps you can just substitute the word “mountain” for “building” in the moving accounts of New York’s Finest.
A local New York TV reporter Dick Oliver was asked how it was that so many firemen died in the Twin Towers, couldn’t they have escaped, and he said, with a rough voice that had love in it, “Firemen don’t run out of buildings. Firemen run into buildings”.
The Christian scholar and author Os Guinness said after 9-11 that horror and tragedy crack open the human heart and force the beauty out. It is in terrible times that people with great goodness inside become most themselves. “The real mystery,” he added, “is not the mystery of evil but the mystery of goodness.”
In the now-famous phrase, they ran into the burning building and not out of the burning building. They ran up the stairs, not down, they went into it and not out of it. They didn’t flee, they charged.
Firemen put out fires and save people, they take people who can’t walk and sling them over their shoulders like a sack of potatoes and take them to safety. That’s what they do for a living. You think to yourself: Do we pay them enough? You realize: We couldn’t possibly pay them enough. And in any case a career like that is not about money.
It’s that what the New York Fire Department did–what those men did on that brilliant blue day in September–was like D-Day. It was daring and brilliant and brave, and the fact of it–the fact that they did it, charging into harm’s way–changed the world we live in. They brought love into a story about hate–for only love will make you enter fire. Talk about your Greatest Generation–the greatest generation is the greatest pieces of any generation, and right now that is: them.
[The firemen] gave us a moment in history that has left us speechless with gratitude and amazement, and maybe relief, too. We still make men like that. We’re still making their kind. Then that must be who we are.