The Bighorn National Forest has proudly hosted the Wyoming Interagency Hotshots for 50 years.
A reunion was held at the Wyoming Hotshots/District fire barracks in Greybull last Saturday. Hotshot crew members from the past 50 years gathered for an afternoon and evening of reconnecting and reminiscing. Over 170 of the crew and their spouses were in attendance.
The Wyoming Hotshots, originally named the Big Horn Interregional Fire Crew, was organized in 1967 at the Bighorn’s Paintrock Ranger District in Greybull. Greybull was chosen because of the town’s proximity to an airport that could handle DC-3 aircraft to transport the crew. The Big Horn crew evolved into the Wyoming Interagency Hotshots in 1982.
Sig Palm the first superintendent for the 1967 Hotshot crew said there were 32 firefighters on the inaugural crew. “Many of the crew members were local hard working farm and ranch kids”, Palm said. Due to the lack of barrack facilities in Greybull at the time, the crews were divided into four groups. Two squads were in Greybull, one squad was stationed at the Shell Ranger Station and one was at the Ten Sleep Saban Ranger Station. When the crews weren’t dispatched to fires they cleaned up after a tornado that had hit the Big Horns the year before and maintained trails in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area.
The current 22-person crew is a national asset that can be dispatched anywhere in the United States. In its 50-year history, the crew has been dispatched to 20 different states and in 2007, four crew members helped fight fires in Australia. They work in all kinds of environments, from urban areas to help with disaster relief from floods and hurricanes to wildfires in remote wilderness. Between 2000 and 2016, the Hotshots traveled 573,208 miles, enough to circle the earth 23 times.
What’s it like being a hotshot? Physical fitness and training are rigorous and mental toughness a necessity. Their primary work is fighting wildland fires, carrying between 40 and 65 pounds of gear to the fire line, sometimes hiking five miles one way. They typically work 16 hours a day for 14 straight days, cutting fire lines by clearing brush and trees, setting backfires, clearing helicopter landing areas, and working with pack stock to transport supplies into the back country. When not fighting fires, they help with project work for the forest, tree thinning, prescribed fires, and removing hazard trees from trails and campgrounds.
Their jobs are dangerous. They fight fires in difficult terrain using drip torches, fuses, chainsaws, and sharp tools. They experience fatigue, stress, cuts and bruises, sprains, broken bones, bad food, falling rocks and trees, grizzly bears, smoke, dehydration, and poisonous plants, insects, and snakes. Nonetheless, the crew’s safety record is exemplary and morale is second to none.
Matt Prentiss started with the crew in 2003 and has been superintendent since 2008. He said his crew will begin arriving this week. “Our crew this year will be made up of 19 men and 3 women. The average age of the crew members is 27. The first two weeks will be spent doing critical training [boot camp] to prepare for fire season. By May 10th we will be available to fight fires on a national level”, said Prentiss.
Prentiss explained that the crew is all together 24 hours a day until the end of September.
“We are like a family, he said. We do everything together.”
Today, the Wyoming Hotshots is the only hotshot crew in Wyoming. The crew’s devotion to its core values of integrity, discipline, pride, cohesiveness, and sense of family are a testament to the crew’s legacy and is why for 50 years young men and women from 20 different states from Maine to Alaska have been proud members of the Wyoming Hotshots.