July 1, 2013

Elite Arizona firefighters were the front-line crew

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Unidentified members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew from Prescott, Ariz., pose together in this undated photo provided by the City of Prescott. Some of the men in this photograph were among the 19 firefighters killed while battling an out-of-control wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday, according to Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Phillip Maldonado, a squad leader with the Granite Mountain Hotshots, trains crew members on setting up emergency fire shelters last year. On Sunday, June 30, 2013, 19 members of the Prescott, Ariz.-based crew were killed in a wildfire.

2012 Associated Press File Photo / Cronkite News

Related headlines

As a condition of hire, each member is required to pass the U.S. Forest Service's "Arduous Work Capacity Test" — which entails completing a 3-mile hike with a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes. The group also set for its members a fitness goal of a 1.5-mile run in 10 minutes, 35 seconds; 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds; 25 push-ups in 60 seconds; and seven pull-ups, according to the crew's website.

"The nature of our work requires us to endure physical hardships beyond most people's experiences," the website said. "Environmental extremes, long hours, bad food, and steep, rugged terrain, demand that we train early and often by running and hiking, doing core exercises, yoga, and weight training."

The group started in 2002 as a fuels mitigation crew — clearing brush to starve a fire. Within six years, they had made their transition into the "elite" hotshot community.

At Captain Crossfit, a warehouse filled with mats, obstacle courses, climbing walls and acrobatic rings near the firehouse where the Hotshots worked, trainers Janine Pereira and Tony Burris talked about their day-to-day experiences with the crew in what was a home away from home for most of them.

The whole group grew beards and mustaches before the fire season started but had to shave their beards for safety.

"They were trying to get away with it, and finally someone was like, 'No. You've got to shave that beard,'" Pereira said. "They were the strongest, the happiest, always smiling."

Former Marine Travis Turbyfill, 27, whose nickname was "Turby," would come in to train in the morning, then return in the afternoon with his two daughters and wife, Stephanie, a nurse, Pereira said.

"He'd wear these tight shorts ... just to be goofy," Pereira said. "He was in the Marine Corps and he was a Hotshot, so he could wear those and no one would bug him."

At 43, crew superintendent Eric Marsh was by far the oldest member of the group. An avid mountain biker who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, Marsh became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of Marsh's cousin.

In April 2012, Marsh let reporters from the ASU Cronkite News Service observe one of the crew's training sessions. That day, they were playing out the "nightmare scenario" — surrounded by flames, with nothing but a thin, reflective shelter between them and incineration.

"If we're not actually doing it, we're thinking and planning about it," Marsh said.

During that exercise, one of the new crew members "died."

"It's not uncommon to have a rookie die," Marsh told the news service. "Fake die, of course."

On Sunday, that scenario was all too real.

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)