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Was the PFD "hero" & "sacrifice" rhetoric a causal factor of the 6-30-13 YH Fire and GMHS deaths?

Author: Fred J. Schoeffler



Restating the post title beyond Wix title allowance: Was the Prescott Way Prescott FD "hero" and "sacrifice" rhetoric a causal factor of the June 30, 2013, YH Fire and GMHS fatalities?


Views expressed to "the public at large” and "of public concern"


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Abbreviations used below: Wildland Firefighters (WFs) - Firefighters (FFs).


No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne (1572-1631) English poet, scholar, soldier, and secretary. considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets.


WW II veteran First Lt. Richard D. Winters spoke of how experiencing combat (and by proper extension wildland firefighting) shaped men: "Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men,"


We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Romans 15: 1-2 (KJV)


"Stand behind truth-tellers. Courage is contagious. When one truth-teller comes forward, others follow. You may never have the opportunity to be a truth=teller, but it's within your power to support truth-telling for generations to come. When the integrity of our government and corporations is under attack, [truth-tellers] first-hand knowledge, sense of duty, and bravery as witnesses to corruption, crimes, or abuse of power are strong tools to fight back." Government Accountability Project (11/29/21)


Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 (KJV)

Please spend some time to judiciously wend your way through the many articles, blogs, research papers, and videos concerning this YHFR post title question regarding heroes, heroism, sacrifice in order to come to your own conclusion(s) about this predictable and preventable June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire and GMHS debacle.


Figure 1. An illusion. Squint and focus on the white as figures and black as the background, you see a world full of angels and tutus dancing. Focusing on the black as figures and white as the background reveals a world full of demons. Source: M. C. Escher, Zimbardo


According to Zimbardo, "There is no clear line between good and evil, being permeable, allows people to cross back and forth between it. This is an idea wonderfully represented in an illusion. What M.C. Escher, a Dutch graphic artist, who made mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints is telling us is that the world is filled with angels and devils, goodness and badness, and these dark and light aspects of human nature are our basic yin and yang. That is, we all are born with the capacity to be anything. Because of our incredible brains, anything that is imaginable becomes possible, anything that becomes possible can get transformed into action, for better or for worse." (Zimbardo) Zimbardo is the world-renowned psychologist perhaps best known for his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment discussed in the text below Stanford Prison Experiment.


Norb Szczurek says October 6, 2015 at 10:34 am - I really don’t know why, if this is what happened it is being covered up. My only thought is that maybe due to the ineffectiveness from the early stages of this fire they don’t want a lot of detail to become public – I don’t really know I do think (if this is what happened) I agree with you and Marti in the fact that it makes the effort even more heroic. (emphasis added)


"Gary Olson says October 4, 2015 at 1:47 am - 2. Darrell Willis et al, put so much pressure on them to be hero’s (sic), make good press, risk a lot to save a lot, and thereby save the crew from the Prescott City Council chopping block because they weren’t revenue neutral or actually making money for the City of Prescott AND someone, or multiple someone’s, in a position of authority over Eric Marsh came up with a last minute Hail Mary Plan to back fire the backside of Yarnell from a hastily constructed dozer line and talked Marsh into buying into it and unfortunately, you have to add everything in Number 1 as well. (emphasis added)


In a December 2019 Prescott Living article about the Prescott FD, their Fire Chief stated: "Humility is a trait carried by most first responders that serve this community. Often categorized as 'heroes,' all those who serve readily downplay the tag and attribute their efforts as being 'just part of the job.'” (emphasis added) Delving further into this local news media will explain the article's "hero" statement because they have an entire special section titled: Everyone Can Be a Hero." It's generally accepted that Structural and Municipal FDs consider themselves as such. However, wildland firefighters are far from being considered first responders.


All the GMHS families, friends, and loved ones declared the GMHS accordingly: "They died heroes." President BO "hailed the fallen as heroes."

Former PFD Fire Chief Fraijo said the victims 'were dedicated, hardworking, well-trained, experienced people. ... Whatever may have happened there will be understood someday.'" (emphasis added) USA Today July 1, 2013


On the contrary, whatever did, in fact, happen there will be understood someday, if and only if, there are truth-tellers to stay the course. And for hard-core naysayers and hero worshippers to cease the hero worship and admit that fatal, causal mistakes were clearly made that day. The only true heroes are the Rookie GMHS who only knew to trust their supervisors to abide by their solemn supervisory duty to ensure the safety and welfare of those they supervise.


In a July 1, 2013, The Two Way NPR article of the YH Fire and GMHS debacle posted: "In a statement issued by the White House early Monday, President Barak Obama [PBO] called the fallen firefighters heroes." Here's the president's statement: "Yesterday, nineteen firefighters were killed in the line of duty while fighting a wildfire outside Yarnell, Arizona. They were heroes — highly skilled professionals ..." (emphasis added)


It was interesting to note PBO's statement regarding the Federal Government: "The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need." According to both a SAIT member and an AZ Dept. of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) investigator, it was obvious to them that the USFS was "controlling the investigation" because the USDA Forest Service funded the YH Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT) and ensuing Report (SAIR). Ironically, the USFS personnel on the YH Fire was limited to the Blue Ridge Hot Shots, most of the aircraft and the Aerial Firefighting Utilization and Effectiveness (AFUE) Study, and a few misc. overhead positions. The article also noted: "Officials are promising an investigation into what happened." Of course, they are! So that they could control the no blame, no-fault narrative. Because with Federal USFS Funding comes Federal USFS control. (emphasis added)


There is also the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) link that has family, friends, and loved ones' testimonials for nine of the GMHS within the Prescott Living media well worth viewing.


A local Prescott business, Crystal Creek Builders had this to say: "It was a tragedy that the community of Prescott will never forget. On June 30th, 2013, nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire. The lives of these heroes were unexpectedly cut short and are still mourned and remembered. ... May we never forget the brave Granite Mountain Hotshots heroes who perished protecting the community of Yarnell, Arizona." (emphasis added)


A July 10, 2013, Orange County Register article by David Whiting titled: "Whiting: Hotshots as heroic as they come" where the author used the words and phrases hero, heroism, life on the line, and sacrifice quite a lot.






Figure 2. (left) Orange County Fire Authority firefighter Seth Andres warms up on the bass drum just before the GMHS memorial service Tuesday in Prescott Valley, Ariz., for the 19 Hotshots who died in a wildfire June 30. Andres is a member of the OCFA Pipes and Drums. Figure 2a.(right) Firefighters from Sacramento stand during the National Anthem during a memorial service for the 19 fallen Hotshots firefighters. Source: Whiting, Orange County Register



Discussing the GMHS Memorial Service in Prescott Valley, Whiting's article notes:


"As the memorial continues, you find yourself contemplating what defines a hero. "But what if we had no one willing to face towering walls of fire racing at gale-force speeds?"


"Consider that it was only six years ago that a dozen firefighters in Orange County were forced to deploy their final-hope fire sacks that were similar to the ones that the Yarnell 19 died in. Our firefighters were fortunate. They lived. I don’t recall any celebrations for those firefighters, standing ovations calling them heroes." (emphasis added)


Say what? "Forced to deploy"? And no "celebrations" or "standing ovations calling them heroes"? Are you kidding me? Minus all hindsight bias, they had several options to escape harm besides deploying their fire shelters. And standing ovations and hero staus because they deployed their "fire shelters? With all due respect - WTF?


"Perhaps the definition of a hero is personal."


"Pastor Ron Merrell of Heights Church takes the stage and addresses his God: 'It felt like a bit of hell these last few weeks for the Granite Mountain Hotshots. … Would you please replace the despair with hope? We’re desperate to see some heaven now.'”


"Merrell continues, giving his perspective on when someone becomes a hero: 'These men were heroes before they lost their lives.'” (italics and underline added)


"Tim Hill, president of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, echoes Merrell, noting that the 19 who died knew of the terrible risks battling wildfires. Hill says, 'We gather in honor of the sacrifice of our members.'” (italics and underline added)


"Yes, sacrifice." (italics and underline added[)

Clueless O'Biden. The memorial service is for the GMHS, a municipal wildland Fire Hot Shot Crew, and he is talking about municipal firefighters saving his home when it was hit by lightning - allegedly - or just making that s**t up? Either way, it is a False Analogy fallacy and comparing apples and oranges.


"But Biden uses the word “hero” so often it devalues one of the most significant nouns in the English language.


"[O'Biden] takes the podium and immediately addresses the heroism issue. He calls the firefighters who saved his sons in a tragic car wreck heroes. He adds that heroes saved his home when lightning hit." (italics and underline added)


O'Biden has obviously confused the OCFA municipal firefighters with the AZ State Forestry wildland firefighters.


Goethals, G.R and Allison, S.T. (2012) Making Heroes: The Construction of

Courage, Competence, and Virtue. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 46: People use the term hero frequently in our culture, and most people can easily name several heroes. Our research explores how people think about heroes as well as the determinants of heroic behavior. People's heroes may be real-world figures or fictional characters. They are thought to be competent enough to achieve at a high level, moral enough to do the right thing in difficult situations, or both. People's conceptions of heroes reflect both schemas about what heroes are like and narrative structures about how they act. We consider the possibility that images of heroes and common hero narratives reflect evolutionarily based archetypes. Given that typical conceptions of heroes include high levels of competence and morality, we consider aspects of self, including self-efficacy, self-affirmation, self-theories of intelligence, self-guides, and self-control that enable people to achieve at high levels and to act morally, even when doing so is difficult. We discuss research showing that people's needs for heroes prepare them to perceive struggle and to root for underdogs. Work on a death positivity bias and admiration for martyrs illustrates the centrality of self-sacrifice in hero schemas and the perceptions of heroes. Finally, we propose a taxonomy of heroes based on various dimensions of influence such as strength, duration, direction, exposure, and origins. The subtypes of heroes in our taxonomy are Transforming, Transfigured, Traditional, Transparent, Transposed, Tragic, Transitional, Transitory, and Trending. In addition, we consider a Transcendent Hero category, referring to heroes who affect their admirers in ways that combine the influences of other types.



Consider now several July 23, 2013, GMHS Deployment Zone News Conference PFD Darrell Willis Comments.

Figure 3. GMHS Deployment Zone - Fatality Site News Conference (July 23, 2013) PFD Darrell Willis Comments. Part 1 of 2 Source: YouTube, John Dougherty


Figure 3a. GMHS Deployment Zone - Fatality Site News Conference (July 23, 2013) PFD Darrell Willis Comments. Part 2 of 2 Source: YouTube, John Dougherty



Granite Mountain Hotshot Shelter Deployment Site, Yarnell, AZ (7-23-13) PFD Willis comments"


... I would have followed them blindfolded... “ Suggesting Groupthink here. A recognized Hazardous Attitude.


they emphasized ... (LCES), ... , however, there are points during that workday... you don’t have all of those standards in place...especially with them moving, ...you couldn’t leave anybody behind. ... wouldn’t have left anybody behind“ Contradicting established wildland fire safety protocols.


“... just one of those things that happened... you can call [it] an accident...” This was clearly NO accident that just happened!


... it’s a very common occurrence... backfiring [around yourself to create a Safety Zone ...” Negative! Just because the GMHS had done this several times on the 2012 Holloway Fire (and elsewhere?) fails to achieve "common occurrence" status.


More contradictory, inexplicable statements by PFD Wildland BC Willis: “we were able to monitor the radio frequencies ... no [WF] is satisfied sitting there [in a Safety/Zone] and watching the fire progress without ... taking some action ... they died with honor, ... stuck together, ... saw / felt the same way ... protected themselves as a last resort ... picked the best location in this bowl ... **why do [FF] run into burning buildings** ... it’s ingrained in them ... not going to sit up there when... potential for people to be at risk somewhere.” (**Fallacy of False Equivalence or False Analogy** enormous ‘leap’ from structure to wildland fire)


Source: Human Factors Influenced the 30 June 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire Fatalities PowerPoint converted to a PDF from the Central Arizona Wildfire Response Team (CAWRT) Refresher Training March 23-24, 2016, at the

Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Center

Acknowledging that the author was not on this Orange County, CA Santiago wildfire - nor did he talk with anyone one who was, it's important to take a brief pause at this point to explain how - from an experienced WF viewpoint - this totally predictable, preventable, and bogus event occurred from the perspective of those who were involved; and then to attempt to place it into proper "what happened and why - sense-making" perspective based on those who were. Go ahead now and inhale and breathe after all that ...


Santiago Fire Shelter Deployment (video clip) - Fire shelter deployment from October 22, 2007, by Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) engine crews. Photos by Karen Tapia Anderson of the Los Angeles Times.







One of the Air Support aircraft reports: "We just had a Crew have a shelter deployment over here." (1:18) With an incredulous response from another: "Copy. A shelter deployment?" (1:22)


Watch the video. This is a WTF happened scenario by a bunch of alleged "trained professionals" that supposedly "had to deploy, were forced to deploy, in order to survive an inferno."



Figures 3. a-f. Series of screenshots of October 22, 2007, OCFA Engine Crew fire shelter deployment phases from video Source: YouTube, Los Angeles Times, WLF LLC, OCFA

Consider now the full Santiago Fire Shelter Deployment video (if you can handle all the drama) and the separate Santiago Fire video contained within their 138-page After Action Review (AAR) of the Santiago Fire, October 21 to November 9, 2007, while paying close attention to the terrain, fuels, fire weather, fire behavior, radio traffic, the Fire Captains leadership, and decision-making, etc., including the incredulous Air Support personnel when told there was a fire shelter deployment in that video. "A shelter deployment?" he asks.


Notwithstanding the aggressive to extreme fire behavior from prior Santa Ana fire weather conditions mentioned in the Santiago Fire AAR, you will, hopefully, readily notice that they had plenty of good black to step into or even retreat downhill. Hindsight bias? I think not. How about some basic wildland firefighting. One commenter correctly noted: "This must have been embarrassing for the firefighters who had to deploy so close to safety."

(emphasis added) And "safety" was, in fact, very close!


And then the continuing drama below in the Whiting: Hotshots as heroic as they come article.

Figures 4. October 22, 2007, OCFA Santiago Fre Shelter Deployment video Source: YouTube, Los Angeles Times, WLF LLC, OCFA



Figure 4a. October 22, 2007, OCFA Santiago Fire AAR video Source: YouTube, Los Angeles Times, WLF LLC, OCFA



Figure 4b. Screenshot of October 22, 2007, OCFA Engine Crew fire shelter deployment from Santiago Fire video. Fire Shelter Deployments: Stories and Common Insights - "the best thing we did was get in our shelters" Source: YouTube, Los Angeles Times, WLF LLC, OCFA

"During the afternoon on Monday at approximately 1:20 p.m. 12 personnel from the OCFA, were involved in a serious near-miss episode, while on foot and suppressing a spot fire on the east side of Santiago Canyon Road, north of Modjeska. This was a significant life threatening event."


"The crew had been advancing a progressive hose lay on a hillside to contain a spot fire that had jumped Santiago Canyon Road. Upon reaching the top of a 200-foot hill, their hose line ruptured, causing them to run out of water. As fire encroached upon their position, they realized they were in an unsafe situation, and declared an emergency. Rapidly approaching and erratic fire behavior threatened their position and cut-off their planned escape route. They moved to a blackened area (previously burned) and deployed their emergency fire shelters as a protective measure. OCFA’s two helicopters immediately responded to this location, and made six water drops to provide support and protection for the trapped firefighters. Once the fire had burned through the area, they exited their fire shelters and were able to walk unaided back down the hill. Fortunately, none of the firefighters were injured, and the safety review immediately following this incident indicated that the deployment of fire shelters was very appropriate and based on their training."


"I don’t recall any celebrations for those [Orange County Fire Authority] firefighters, standing ovations calling them heroes.


"Before the service, a senior firefighter tells me he doesn’t think he’s a hero. He offers that he knew exactly what he was getting into when he put on the firefighter’s badge.


"His comment echoes what a friend of mine said when we visited Ground Zero in New York only months after 9/11. I called those who died heroes. “They’re not heroes,” she scoffed. “People who don’t know what they’re doing and save others are heroes.” Perhaps the definition of a hero is personal.


"Merrell continues, giving his perspective on when someone becomes a hero: “These men were heroes before they lost their lives.


Clueless O'Biden. The memorial service is for the GMHS, a municipal wildland Fire Hot Shot Crew, and he is talking about municipal firefighters saving his home when it was hit by lightning - allegedly - or just making that s**t up? Either way, it is a False Analogy fallacy and comparing apples and oranges.


"But Biden uses the word “hero” so often it devalues one of the most significant nouns in the English language.