This week we will feature “South Canyon Staff Ride Reflections” from members of the Redding Interagency Hotshot Crew. Every year at the start of the season the Redding Hotshots travel to Colorado and participate in the South Canyon Staff Ride. Each member of the crew is asked to write down their thoughts and reflections on this experience.
Throughout this week we will share several of these reflections with you. As you will see, there is much to learn from these firefighter’s personal insights.
There is no ‘That Will Never Happen to Me’ Anymore
Redding IHC Crewmember – 2015
I still remember where I was in July of 1994 when the news reported that several firefighters had been killed on Storm King Mountain while fighting the South Canyon Fire. Many people remember where they were that day; it was an event that seemingly stopped time for the wildland fire community.
I, however, was not yet a part of that community, not a working member anyway. I was seven years old, standing in my aunt’s living room in Boise, Idaho on summer vacation. It is still clear in my mind to this day.
Growing up in the wildland fire service, South Canyon stayed with me, and I became more and more curious about it. I have studied it over and over, and though I’ve read every book and watched every video available, I couldn’t begin to imagine the impact that standing on the mountain with those who survived would have on me.
Before the staff ride, South Canyon was just a “paper fire” with a known outcome. Looking at pictures and maps, I found myself second-guessing their decisions, wondering how they could have taken the actions they did. However, hiking the mountain and hearing the accounts from the Subject Matter Experts gave me an entirely new and humbling perspective.
The “mistakes” no longer seemed glaringly obvious. During the tactical decision games, I found myself making many of the same decisions that were made that day. I realized that it was not a single major decision that led to the outcome on July 6, 1994. Rather, it was a series of small decisions that lined-up perfectly to result in tragedy.
Running the West Flank Line and touching the crosses brought South Canyon to life. The events that unfolded became more than just a story. I realized that tragedy like this could happen to anyone—including me.
There is no “that will never happen to me” anymore. Because of South Canyon, my generation has been raised to look at things differently, to speak up, and to challenge things that don’t feel right. It is my responsibility to gain every possible piece of knowledge and experience I can in the hopes of recognizing situations with life-threatening potential before they turn into tragedy, and to voice my concerns.
The South Canyon Staff Ride has encouraged me to continue to be a student of fire, and take every opportunity to walk the ground and learn from past incidents, especially tragedy fires. I have learned so much from this opportunity. However, I don’t think that the full impact that South Canyon has had on me can really be measured, just as the countless number of lives saved by the lessons learned from the sacrifice of those who died there will never truly be known.