Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wildland Firefighters

Wildland Firefighters. The men and women who do this normally get into the field simply because of lack of direction.  There is always a need for firefighters and it serves as a summer job after high school/college for most.  Many of them move on to other careers after their first or second season and some even move on to structure firefighting.  The few who spend season after season are the guys I know. Like brewers, these guys work their guts out and there is no end in site.  They, well the ones I got to know, love to have a GOOD time and they love their families. I dunno, they are just my type of people. That's the best way to equate it.  Lets go back a bit: My cousin is a seasoned vet of the hotshot world.  He has traveled the country paying his dues, leaving a bit of himself on every fire.  Many Hot Shoters move to where the work is from season to season, and leave the crew they spent the recent summer with, as my cousin did. When I got the phone call that he was coming to Arizona to join the Granite Mountain Hotshots, I was elated.  Normally he was based in Nor Cal and I would receive pictures from rugged hillsides with a blazing plume looming in the background.  I always stopped and put myself in his shoes, imagining that my paycheck depended on me heading towards a 5 thousand foot smoke tower, simply to cut a line and attempt to quell the fire in 100 plus degree heat. My cousin, at the time of joining the GMH crew was lead chainsaw.  He literally carried up to 100 pound pack (with a saw) and cut the way for the crew.  (Sorry about your rush hour traffic debacle, but maybe you are not in the worst spot ever!)  These guys are the ultimate brothers and sisters, spending countless hours in their crew buggies traveling from fire to fire, exhausted.   I never got to fight fires with the Granite Mountain crew, but I would have.  I would have marched into a fire with them after the year I spent getting to know most of them.  We would get pretty rowdy in Prescott at the local watering holes, with nothing but pints of craft beer, stories, and smiles.  My cousin always gave me a heads up when they were coming home for a mandatory day off (after working 14 days strait it's a federal mandate to send em home for 2 days)  Yea, 100 hr weeks wearing the hot fire suits, carrying heavy weight, wearing out your boots in 100 degree temps warrants a 2 day off period. That's how I knew them, as skinny, overworked and starving for a good night on the town. Wow, I am so blessed to meet those idiots and have fun with them.  Garret, one of the GMH crew members, and I got particularly close. He worked as hard as anyone, and Wildland Firefighting fit him perfectly.  When I received a phone call the evening of June 30th 2012, It was my cousins broken voice.  He was trying to let me know something had happened.  My cousin was promoted three months before the fire and left the GMH crew for a new full time job in Wildland Firefighting. On June 30 his new crew was traveling to the Yarnell Hill Fire, which was still in its infancy.  He was so elated to get to see his old GMH crew members.  During the lengthy drive from Norther California, my cousin recived a call that  forever changed his life.  The call was from someone in charge on the fire at Yarnell Hill with tragic news. 19 down. My cousin soon called me, knowing many of them were friends of mine.  I said, "Is Garret ok?" "He is OK right?".  The rest is personal. The rest left a pit in many peoples hearts forever.

 Garret attempted to wear the same shirt everyday for a year.  That smelly bastard looked so good in that shirt! He made such a positive impression on everyone that he came in contact with. Upon arriving to the campsite we chose for my 30th birthday party, Garret had a gift waiting for me.  A goodwill picture of a stoic Navajo Indian with some humorous sayings written around it. I can't help to laugh while writing this. He and those 19 guys were incredible.

The main reason I am writing this post is to inform you why we are choosing the Wildland Firefighter Foundation as a charity that we will back for years to come.  Mostly, it because they protect the Wilderness we are so fortunate to enjoy.  Also, the care that they took for my family and friends affected by the Yarnell Fire. During a time of tragedy is a difficult task. Brendon, AKA doughnut, occasionally comes into the pub and reminiscences of his 19 compadres over a pint. When I heard that he took employment with the WFF, I knew we had to see what their needs were and how we can help.  This year, $1 of each Slide Fire Red will go to the WFF. Speaking with the folks at the WFF, they were so humbled and appreciative that we were making that donation.  I said, "wait till next years donation!"

Folks, this is what craft beer can do.  It brought many of those 19 together on time their off time, home from fire ravaged land. They will never get to see AZWBC, but their collective spirit lives on in these brewery walls.