Last Saturday, Meme & I viewed the movie “Only the Brave” (Brave) about the Granite Mountain IHC (Interagency Hotshot Crew). I’m glad we did, as it was better than I expected it to be. Months before, after seeing the trailer (coming attractions) I remember saying I wouldn’t want to see it, as my experience with films about wildland firefighters ranged from disappointing to hokey. However, during the course of 2017’s very long fire season I moderated my expectations of the film. I discussed the movie’s potential with folks, including a line medic from Prescott, AZ while we were on fire assignment in western Montana. As it turned out, the trailer didn't really do Brave justice. It was an entertaining film, but don’t go thinking it is a fact-filled documentary. As the beginning disclaimer states: it is “based on actual events.” There are “fudge factors” used; I’m sure to make it more entertaining to the general public.
|Tres Lagunas fire 2013 with Smokey Bear HS|
Less than 48-hours after seeing Brave, I was asked by my physical therapist what I thought of “The movie” (her words). Her husband is a firefighter/paramedic with a local department and they’d gone the night before. I told her that we liked it, along with some factual observations:
· Yours truly (“Safety Dude”) worked three fires (that I know of) with the crew that became the Granite Mountain IHC (GMIHC).
|Los Padres HS at Cave Creek Complex|
o 1) The Cave Creek Complex in 2005 was the first (Tonto National Forest, north of Phoenix). This might have been the incident that prompted Prescott fire leaders towards getting their crew IHC certification. I’m not sure, but it was a long 6-year effort. The film correctly portrayed the loss of some structures due to the Cave Creek Complex fire, but certainly not in what you’d think as downtown Cave Creek, AZ or even its fringes.
The fuels involved were also not timber as depicted, but primarily Sonoran Desert. The movie also made it seem that by this time they’d been waiting for IHC certification. Not so. Anyway, those are the types of facts that often get changed for story-line flow. No complaints or worries from me, as folks like a good tale (as an undergraduate history major and Park Ranger interpreter I learned what sheer facts could do to interest levels).
o 2nd was the Horseshoe 2 fire, which was in the Chiricahua Mountains (southeast Arizona), in June of 2011 (about a month after my return from working in Jordan at Petra). Brave shows them being evaluated for IHC status, and it might have been the case. I spent most of my time & efforts near/around Chiricahua National Monument. What seemed could’ve ringed true was Marsh’s “’Tude” (attitude) with the evaluator. I hardly knew him, but fire personnel closer to him have told me that he could be… well, quite stubborn (and “that hits close to home”).
|Doce fire from Prescott, AZ|
o 3rd the GMIHC and many others worked the Doce fire (Prescott, AZ) in mid-June 2013. I was with the Structural Protection Group on the northeast flank of the fire, while they were assigned on the other side of the incident (close to point-of-origin). I recall talking to some of the crewmembers after briefing & Division/Group breakouts re: some of the structural protection efforts. After a few days I was re-assigned to the Silver fire, on the Gila National Forest is southwest New Mexico. This was one week before Yarnell Hill.
To this day, I remember where I was, and my reaction upon hearing that 19 of 20 GMIHC had been lost that June afternoon. I immediately went into denial: “No it can’t be… we don’t lose crews” I told myself. I knew wildland firefighting was a very dangerous business: I’d been a Safety Officer for 25-years and a Type I for 20-fire seasons. I also knew we’d lost too many people over those decades. However, what was really perplexing to me was losing an entire crew. That hadn’t happened since the early 1930’s, the Griffith Park fire next to my hometown (Burbank, CA). Hadn’t we come a long ways since then? Wasn’t our technology and safety training far superior? As it turned out the human factors hadn’t: after decades we still saw (and see to the present) that simple required principles like L-C-E-S (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) are abandoned and we sometimes leave risk assessment & management behind, allowing the holes in the Swiss cheese of disaster to align.
GMIHC was the first, and as far as I know only municipal department crew to attain IHC status from NWCG (National Wildfire Coordinating Group). Hope they won’t be the last.
If there is one thing we should take away from this incident & tragedy, it should be that risk management must be a continuous and ongoing process. We’ve learned that lesson too many times to keep repeating it. In addition, nobody’s property & possessions are worth a human life. If you choose to live in the “woods” or wildland-urban interface you live with that risk. You need to be fire-wise in materials used and create “defensible space” - don’t be negligent and count on others to save your stuff.
I certainly enjoyed the many scenes that were filmed around Santa Fe and the Galisteo Basin. Plus, they mentioned the strong financial incentive by city managers to have the crew certified as an IHC: that was really a non-factor at Yarnell Hill though. The Wall Street Journal review I saw liked the movie too, but felt it could have done more to explain line tactics: I think that might have put afternoon & evening viewers into doze mode. As I often remind myself, and others (especially professionals), these are meant to tell a story and be entertaining for a couple of hours. I think Brave hit-that-mark for me. If you go to see it, I hope you enjoy…
|Massai Point - Horseshoe 2 fire 2011|