MEDFORD, Ore. — There are hot shot crews trained not only in Arizona, but here in Southern Oregon as well. Although the hot shots are typically the closest to the fire, all firefighters battling wildfires train for a worst case scenario.
Fire resistant and folded up as compactly as possible, fire shelters are something that are only deployed in a life or death situation, an uncommon occurrence according to local firefighting officials.
“That’s the last ditch effort resort,” says Sean Hendrix with Grayback Forestry. “In the 25 years I’ve fought forest fires, I have not had to deploy a shelter a single time.”
Hendrix says his crews train every year on both when and how to use the shelters, a decision that could save lives.
When a worst-case scenario happens, a firefighter has only seconds to deploy their fire shelter. Most firefighters aim to have this done in under 25 seconds. Firefighters must stay in the shelter, until the all clear is given.
Temperatures can reach up to 200 degrees inside and available oxygen can be as much of a concern as the flames themselves. Hot shot crews are often the closest to the flames and most at risk for needing to use the shelters, however the training is used for all who fight wildfires.
“They’re a scarce resource, but that’s because they’re highly trained,” says Kevin Donham with Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. “They’re the best firefighters we have and they’ll be pushed to go to those fire who need the most attention.”
Hot shot crews are considered some of the most elite and brave in the firefighting community. A crew consists of 20 people and travels around the country wherever they are needed.