Truckee Hotshots

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An honorable tradition continues as the Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Hotshots are recertified as a Type I Interagency Hotshot Crew.

"Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHCs) are the most highly trained, skilled, and experienced type of firefighting handcrews. Hotshot crews were first established in Southern California in the late 1940s. They were called “Hotshot” crews because they worked on the hottest part of wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, state and county agencies sponsor more than 100 Interagency Hotshots Crews."(Taken from the USDA U.S. Forest Service website). The Tahoe National Forest has 3 Hotshot crews, the Tahoe Hotshots, The American River Hotshots, and the Truckee Hotshots.

You would never hear the following words directly from the Hotshots, their humility is as strong a part of their culture and tradition as everything else that makes them a highly specialized, elite firefighting crew. This article comes from quietly observing behind tree branches and avoiding the spray of saw chips projecting from loud chainsaws "brapping" through brush and trees cutting saw line in advance of the pulaskis and scrapes constructing fireline up a steep slope during the Truckee Hotshot Type 1 recertification. Recertification is held after a significant change in leadership, which occurred after the retirement of the former Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Hotshot Superintendent.

The Tahoe National Forest (TNF), Truckee Hotshots are based out of Hobart Mills Work Center, near Truckee which has housed crews since 1962 including a crew that was primarily staffed by Native Americans, and then the Hobart Hotshots which became the Tahoe Hotshots when they moved to Bullards Bar in 1986. Now it houses the Truckee Hotshots.

"It's great to be back at Hobart. All the evaluators here remember what it's like to be a Hotshot crewmember," stated Eric Rice, originally from Graegale who was the former Tahoe Hotshot Superintendent and now TNF Division 3 on the Yuba River Ranger District. Other former Hotshots present included Eric Petterson, TNF Division 6 for Truckee and Sierraville, Jason Withrow, TNF Fire Chief 2, Marissa MacDonald, Grass Valley Emergency Command Center Dispatcher who was on the crew the year Truckee became a Type 1 Hotshot crew, and Will Harris, Eldorado National Forest Georgetown District Fire Management Officer and former Superintendent for the El Dorado Hotshots.

The simulation for the recertification is intended to replicate the dynamic conditions, situations, harsh terrain and elements the crew will face, assigned to the hottest and most dangerous part of the wildfires they will fight. Everyone involved in administering this certification came from the ground up. Former hotshot superintendents and hotshots now in prominent leadership positions, together encompassing 45 years of boots on the ground experience observed the Hotshots. They evaluated the Hotshots’ application of Type I handcrew wildfire suppression fundamentals, safety, communication, and quality of work as they engaged the simulated wildfire.

The recertification began with the report of a vegetation fire and the dispatch of the Truckee Hotshots. With heavy packs and tools in hand, the Truckee Hotshots hiked in to a complex wildfire simulation to recertify as a Type I Interagency Hotshot Crew. "A Mod" and "B Mod", mod standing for module, each consisting of 10 Hotshots initial attacked the simulated wildfire by cutting and advancing fireline quickly and effectively on both flanks of the fire, while taking suppression action on spot fires igniting outside of their line.

They worked alongside hoselays and firefighters from adjoining engine resources, and utilized simulated air resources via radio for air support.

As incidents within an incident occur, the Hotshots responded to a medical emergency of a fallen crew member from a simulated tree strike. A squad of five, hiked back down the line to retrieve trauma equipment and a backboard which they hiked up to where the crew member was being assessed and prepared for transport by EMTs on the Hotshot crew. The crew then took turns carrying him on the backboard safely back down the line before re-engaging in fire suppression.

The wildfire simulation culminated with the emergency radio traffic that evokes strong emotion even in simulation…the report of the crew's escape route being cut off by fire. Falling back on their training, these words resulted in a cool, calm, collective, and quick reverse tool order back down the line where the hotshots deployed their practice fire shelters in tight formation, calling out to each other to make sure everyone was accounted for.

Back at the Hotshot buggies, the crew circled up with the evaluators. "This recertification process upholds the standards of what IHC means. The Hotshots mean something to the public and the Hotshots that came before. Their attention to detail, organization, communication, ability to work together in extreme conditions, proficiency at their job that requires top physical and mental condition, ability to carry out critical missions supporting all aspects of fire management on incidents- all in effort to protect life, property, resources, and the values specific to each community are what you get when you order Hotshots," explained Rice.

The evaluators provided observations of the hunger they saw in the crew and the cohesion they demonstrated, noting "it takes all kinds of haircuts to make a crew." They also offered encouragement to continue to learn and improve, "If you want to be the best, you have to earn that, but enjoy the grind!" The level of engagement and focus that the Truckee Hotshots displayed during this simulation showed how much they wanted to be there. Showing an enthusiasm no matter what and doing their jobs to the best of their ability at the level they demonstrated, earned them their Type 1 Hotshot recertification. Smiles broke out across the crew and just as the Hotshots hiked in together to the unknown, they hiked out together ready for what’s to come, in this equally challenging and rewarding wildland firefighting position they earned together as Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Hotshots.

An inspiring moment of the re-certification process came when each Hotshot candidly shared their answer to the same question from an evaluator. With this accomplishment being theirs, this article will end in their words, answering the evaluator's question, why do you want to be a Hotshot?

Truckee Hotshot Superintendent Scott Burghardt, from Walnut Creek, CA

"After working 20 hour shifts and then having downtime together, you experience true friendship and camaraderie at its finest."

Acadia Davis, from Vermont

"I returned to the crew after working another job for the crew camaraderie. I missed being in the back of the buggy, the horrible shifts and getting through it together."

Chris Mariano, from England

"The work, the adventure, the challenge, being a part of something bigger than myself. And it gives you the best sleep knowing you laid it all out there at the end of the day. The job takes a lot from you but it gives back a lot more, and you can’t put a price on that."

Dustin Friedman, from Carson City, NV

"I love being a part of the crew and the energy of what 20 people can do."

Kyle Hayes from Portland, OR

"It's the best job I know of. Getting to go after the long shots that maybe might not work, but you work hard and make a difference."

Adam Jarkow, 20 years in Truckee, CA

"I've spent 18 years Hotshotting and I return for how close you get with your crew and the relationships formed from shared suffering. It's now in my blood."

Travis Shoemaker, from Grass Valley, CA

"I wanted to be a part of the history of this place. It's a serious job, but we have fun."

Truckee Hotshot Captain, Kevin Mecham from Redding, CA

"Redding's a beautiful place and everyone knows it. – I loved the whole Hotshot culture, the opportunity to be more engaged and effective, being able to develop people, the feeling of community, family, and camaraderie, the mental and physical challenge and pushing past what you think are your limits."

Truckee Hotshot Captain, Derek Kramer, from Burnt Hills, NY

"The humility of the crew."

Eric Rice, Former Tahoe Hotshot Superintendent, current TNF District Fire Management Officer,Division 3, Yuba River Ranger District, from Graeagle, CA

"I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I almost didn’t become a Hotshot when the Tahoe Hotshot Superintendent at the time, forgot to make the call to offer me the job.
We all have that sickness. Discipline, Structure, Work, Physical Fitness, Fighting Fire- Being a part of the action-Heck ya!"

Submitted by Meredith Anello