Former Granite Mountain Hotshots member reflects on his time with team

A former Granite Mountain Hotshots member recalls being on the specialized wildfire team before the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Published: Jun. 30, 2023 at 7:34 PM MST
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PRESCOTT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Once a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Pat McCarty reflected back on his time with the specialized wildfire team, along with the loss of 19 fellow firefighters. Hotshots are considered the most highly trained, skilled, and experienced wildland firefighters. Being on the team requires intense training and sacrifice. McCarty is now a captain with the Prescott Fire Department. His focus is on structure fires. He left the Granite Mountain Hotshots to start a family before the Yarnell Hill Fire, but he stayed close to them. “I loved everything about it,” he said. “Being outside, working hard, with a bunch of like-minded people that had a common goal.”

McCarty joined the hotshots in their second year. His work meant that four to five months out of the year, you’re away from home, family and friends. “It’s not typically hotels and swimming pools. It’s you’re sleeping in the dirt and you’re sleeping on the ground,” he said. McCarty left the hotshots in 2011. “It was really, really a treasured part of my life,” he said.

He said he remembered where he was and what he was doing when he learned of the Yarnell Hill Fire. “I had just landed on my honeymoon. We had just touched down, and my phone started to blow up,” McCarty responded.

“Our escape route has been cut off. We are preparing a deployment site and we are burning out around ourselves in the brush and I’ll give you a call when we are under the sh… the shelters,” the hotshots said in a radio transmission back on June 30, 2013. That would be their last communication. An EMT was lowered in and later found their bodies.

McCarty and his new wife headed back to Phoenix on their next flight. “Everything was a blur after that. The entire state dropped what was going on. And not only that, but the nation really paid attention to what was going on and what had happened and showed up in support of all 19 guys,” he said.

The following year, Prescott disbanded the Granite Mountain Hotshots and changed how it fights wildfires. Its firefighters focus on clearing dead trees, grass and brush. “For Prescott Fire, we’re really trying to build our wildland department to be able to look over our greatest need, which is the wildfire risk the city of Prescott has,” McCarty said.

He’s been with the department for 17 years. For him and so many others, it’s hard to believe 10 years has passed. “A child that was 4 then is 14 now and I think that’s the biggest realization that time has passed. I’m really proud of who they are and what they do,” he said.

He’s also grateful he had a chance to be a part of the hotshots. “It was really, really a treasured part of my life,” McCarty explained.

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