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Northwest Fire disbanding wildfire hotshot crew

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Northwest Fire disbanding wildfire hotshot crew

By Craig Smith. CREATED Mar 4, 2014

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - They do one of the most dangerous jobs in a dangerous business but now most of them may be losing their jobs.

Northwest Fire District is disbanding its elite Ironwood hotshot team at the end of the upcoming wildfire season.

The fate of a different team of hotshots brought the dangers into sharper focus. 
    
Last summer 19 members of Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshots died when shifting winds drove the Yarnell Hill Fire over them.
      
Now as we roll into a new wildfire season Northwest Fire's hotshots know this season will be their last.

After a dry winter, the brush here is dry and dangerous. When dry brush blows up into the biggest most dangerous fires, that's when they call in the hotshots.
       
But Northwest Fire's hotshot team will only answer the call for one more season---it's not the danger, it's the budget.

An Ironwood Hotshot from Northwest Fire put video on You Tube that shows how close they come to the fires they fight.
    
They already knew the dangers before fire killed 19 members of a different team: Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshots killed when the Yarnell Fire over ran them.

Northwest Fire's Ironwood Hotshots felt the bravery, shared the grief, and had the honor of driving their fallen brothers vehicles back to Prescott.

Joseph Lainson remembers, "We traveled through surrounding towns and Prescott, with the crowd lining every street.  There was not a single dry eye including ourselves."
      
Now Northwest Fire is telling the Ironwood Hotshots this fire season will be their last.
      
One of the Hotshots used Change.org to get more than 500 signatures on an on-line petition to save the Ironwood crew. It claimed Northwest feared the Yarnell Fire deaths would jack up insurance. 
      
Northwest Fire says insurance costs did not jump, but some years other costs drove deficits over a million dollars.
      
Captain Adam Goldberg says now Northwest can concentrate on basics instead of sending Ironwood Hotshots to fight fires hundreds of miles away to meet obligations as an interagency fire crew.

"We're still going to protect the Northwest Fire District in it's entirety as we do and we'll be there for our neighbors as long as we're continuing to meet the needs of our community and our citizens and our taxpayers which we serve."
     
The Ironwood crew includes seven full time employees and 13 who are seasonal and only on the payroll in wildfire season.
     
Northwest says it will offer regular firefighting jobs to the full timers and see if it can find a way to offer jobs to the seasonal workers.

Craig Smith

Craig Smith

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Craig enjoys using innovative writing and visuals to make difficult stories easier to understand. As a newsroom manager at KGUN 9, Craig was part of the team that won three best newscast awards from Arizona Associated Press