|Then Assistant Central Yavapai Fire Chief Mike Parrish, wearing a flame retardant hood and bunker gear, watches as CYFD firefighters worked through a drill during his time at the district.|
Jo. L. Keener/Courier File/Courtesy
Special to the Tribune
When Mike Parrish remembers being a member of the Prescott Hotshots, he recalls the intense training but mostly the team's camaraderie.
"Not only did we work and train together, but we looked out for each other, and became a family," Parrish said.
Parrish joined the elite Prescott Hotshots with the Prescott National Forest in 1979 after serving two years on a wildland fire team in Yuma.
The Prescott Hotshots were stationed back then at Groom Creek, before the Prescott National Forest Fire Center was built.
"We'd run up and down the back side of Spruce Mountain," said Parrish, who started as a firefighter at Central Yavapai Fire District and retired as fire chief in 2011. "Everyone would help each other get up and down. It was my first experience with that close of a group."
Hotshots often hike several miles in to fight fires while carrying up to 40 pounds of tools, gear, water, and food. When they can, they set up camp in a safe area overnight so they don't have to return to base then hike in again in the morning, Parrish said.
The intense real-time training and evaluation of their actions allows hotshots to act quickly and decisively as a team when they face those situations on the fire line, said Parrish, who helped train CYFD's first wildland fire suppression crew.
"The hotshots have so much responsibility at such a young age," Parrish said. "A lot of agencies look at that experience - working on a team, fighting wildland fires, and being self sufficient - and they want those skills in their department."
It takes a strong level of commitment, a lot of training, and a high level of fitness to be on a hotshot crew, Parrish said.
Hotshots complete a mandatory 80 hours of training and often do more throughout the year, Prescott firefighter and spokesman Wade Ward said.
"It's not about who gets there first when fighting a wildfire, it's about supporting the firefighters attacking the fire," Ward said. "We're all here to protect people, property, and our land together."
Prescott Fire Battalion Chief J.P. Vicente said he'd watched as three of the Granite Mountain Hotshots had come into their own.
"I helped raise those guys," Vicente said. "My son was a Granite Mountain Hotshot before he was hired by the Peoria Fire Department. We all know someone who was on the team."
That's why it's important for firefighters to attend the events honoring the hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill fire and talk to community members who are also grieving, Vicente said.
"The community is feeling the same pain we are," Vicente said. "We want them to know that we are there for them as they have been there for us."