Friday, August 16, 2013

Paying Tribute to Heroes


Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial

By Bethany E. Hannah

On June 30th, 2013, the firefighting community lost nineteen members of the twenty-person Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew during a tragic incident on the Yarnell Hill Fire, not far from their home base of Prescott, Arizona. The tragedy deeply affected the communities of Prescott and Yarnell, as well as communities throughout Arizona and the nation. Even though the media has moved on to cover other topics, wildland firefighters (and the Hotshot community in particular) are still feeling this tragedy deeply and continue to honor these courageous wildland firefighters with fire departments around the world sending condolences and providing aid and support to the Prescott Fire Department, their friends, and families.
 
Crews throughout the country also continue to pay tribute to these heroes in personal and private ways. Hotshots, past and present, are throwing on their gear, putting their saws on their shoulders, and hiking up to a ridgeline to spend a moment of silence to contemplate the memory of these fallen men. They are taking a deep breath before every shift…to remember. They are etching the number 19 into their hardhats, water bottles, and tools. They are doing their best to acknowledge the tragedy and pay tribute in the only way they are able – by channeling their sorrow in their work, by challenging themselves in memory of the fallen, and by memorializing them in a place they can see every day.
 
 
One such place is an impromptu memorial that was set up at the Granite Mountain Hotshot compound. I personally witnessed this incredible scene. Individuals from all over the world have left flowers and personal mementos, crews and fire departments have left tee-shirts and hats, and children have left stuffed animals and toy fire trucks.

The tribute that moved me the most however was one made by a Region 3 Interagency Hotshot Crew. They left behind a full set of Hotshot Sawyer regalia; hardhat, extra chain, fuel and oil siggs, wedges, a specialized pounder, a pair of chaps, and a chainsaw.
 
Many people may miss the significance of the saw because they are not aware that chainsaws are at the heart of each Hotshot crew. Each Hotshot crew runs up to four saw teams, with every Hotshot an accomplished sawyer.

Becoming a Hotshot Sawyer is a coveted role; and the position of Lead Saw is especially prestigious. In addition to cutting fireline, the Sawyers are trusted to take down hazardous trees of all shapes and sizes (often weakened by fire), and are relied upon to make critical decisions under extreme conditions. And they take great pride in the efficiency of their teams. In fact, at the point where two Hotshot crews meet while cutting a fireline, it can sometimes get pretty wide because neither crew is willing to be the first to shut off their saws.
 
So for a Hotshot to leave behind something that is considered almost sacred speaks volumes to the depth of sorrow the entire Hotshot community is feeling and their desire to properly honor the nineteen heroes that we lost.
 

To me that lone saw stands a symbol, a monument not only to those we lost, but to every Hotshot who grabs their chainsaw and walks in to harm’s way.
 
It’s a way of saying “We will not forget.”


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Bethany Hannah is a former Hotshot firefighter and sawyer with the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.  She is currently a small business owner, serving the wildland fire industry, and teaches chain saw safety, use, and maintenance for the annual Red Ants Pants Foundation Timber Skills Workshop

1 comment:

  1. Thank you to the sawyers fallers and falling bosses that surely saved us from burning snags broken top old growth and weakend trees on the douglas complex fire.hearing those trees falling was very scary.I would definitely rather those trees get felled before we come through.thank you for risking your lives to make us feel safer.all trees felled with stihl products.thank you for the quality an durability of your products

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