by Dennis B. Light, Chief, Prescott Fire Department
Tragedy struck the Prescott community late in the day on June 30, 2013, with news of the fire shelter deployment in Yarnell of the first and only Type 1 Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew.
News of the deaths of these 19 men was overwhelming. Coping was emotionally draining for family, friends, associates, counterparts and the greater Prescott community.
“The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew members who died on June 30, 2013, were 19 of the finest young men I have ever known … they lived their lives with characteristics and values we all strive for: humility, work and professional ethics, job knowledge, job dedication, courage, care for fellow human beings, love and care for their family, friends and our community,” shared Darrell Willis, retired Fire Chief, Prescott Fire Department. “They had a tremendous love of life and adventures. They also loved their jobs and each other. The Granite Mountain Hotshots lived their motto Esse Quam Videri: To be, rather than to seem.”
At the time of the tragedy, the Prescott Fire Department was a national pioneer in the wildland fire response realm. The inception of the Hotshot Crew was monumental for the department. These fine men worked diligently to enhance the need for defensible space in our community and throughout the fire season when not assigned to fire attack and suppression operations.
In the days immediately after June 30, a department member served as a family liaison, and with help from the Professional Firefighters of Arizona and the 100 Club, the department made death notifications, provided investigative aid, event planning, delegation of honor guard commitments and the handling of offers of help from fellow firefighters across Arizona.
The days and years following the tragedy have been an emotional roller coaster. Each event, memorial, movie and book brings back the emotions from that dreadful day. It does appear to be easier, but one can’t help to have some bad days and memories. Rarely a shift goes by in which one of our members isn’t asked questions about the Hotshots.
“The afternoon of June 30 found me with my family at a barbecue, enjoying the company of old friends at their Prescott home. I still remember sitting in their backyard on this overcast, and up to that point, ‘unremarkable’ day. Now, five years later, what would be otherwise so obscure is so crystal clear,” said Capt. Dave Peterson, Prescott Fire Department. “The events of that day and since are always going to be a part of who we are, but they do not define us. As we remember our friends who died that day, we are better FOR them, and BECAUSE of them. We remember.”
We do carry the burden of what happened as professionals and will continue to do so for the rest of our careers. Our department and our community will always remember those who were lost and the sole survivor. With the passage of time, things will become less raw and to some degree, begin to fade. However, we will continue to honor them as part of the Prescott Fire Department history.