UPDATE at 5:13 p.m. MST, March 5, 2014: today we reported more details in a new article about why the Fire District decided to disband the Ironwood Hotshots.
(Originally published at 4:53 p.m. MST, March 4, 2014)
The Northwest Fire District announced today that they will disband their Hotshot Crew, the Ironwood Hotshots, at the end of the 2014 wildfire season. The District serves the northwest metropolitan area of Tucson, Arizona, and is one of the very few organizations employing a hotshot crew that is not a federal or state land management agency. Another was the city of Prescott, Arizona, whose Granite Mountain Hotshot crew was virtually wiped out when 19 members of the crew were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire June 30, 2013.
The Fire District said the reason for eliminating the Ironwood Hotshots, according to Tucson News Now, was financial.
Financial and operational reasons were given for the decision to disband. Financially, the fire district said the hotshots cost money, including indirect costs that are not reimbursed by the federal government. Operationally, the crews are sent all over the country and by disbanding the crew, Northwest Fire can improve service locally and lower the tax rate.
A petition at Change.org that encourages the retention of the crew, cites fear of lawsuits, such as those filed against the City of Prescott following their disaster last year.
…In the wake of this terrible tragedy a series of lawsuits were filed against Prescott Fire Department, and State and Federal agencies. It was in direct result of these pending suits that the leadership of Northwest Fire District has hastily decided to abolish the Ironwood Hotshots, who provide a core function in the protection of the cities of Tucson, Marana and surrounding communities against the threat of Wildland fires…
When a firefighting resource, such as a hotshot crew or fire engine, from one agency travels and helps to suppress a fire in another jurisdiction for an extended period of time, formal agreements usually stipulate that the lending agency is financially reimbursed for their expenses. For example, the Prescott Fire Department paid the personnel on the Granite Mountain Hotshots around $12 an hour according to The Daily Courier, but the department was reimbursed by the federal government at the rate of $39.50 an hour.
In fiscal year 2012, the city estimated that the crew brought in $1,375,191, and had $1,437,444 in operating expenses – for a difference of $62,253.
In 2012, payments for fighting fire paid for 95.5 percent of the cost of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. While they were not assigned to a fire, they sometimes spent time on projects for the city, including hazard fuel mitigation — removing vegetation to reduce the chance that fires approaching residential areas would destroy the homes of city residents. And of course, much of the year they were available for fighting wildland fires in and near the city of Prescott.
We have a report that the Ironwood Hotshots have been doing even better financially and the crew is not a monetary burden on the Fire District. They are reimbursed at about $40 per crewperson hour, which covers not only salary but some other routine expenses while firefighting the fire. The starting pay for a new crewperson is about $13 an hour. Even though the crew recently purchased and paid for $500,000 worth of new crew carriers, they still have a positive balance in their hotshot crew account of several hundred thousand dollars.
Last September another hotshot crew, El Cariso, established 60 years before, was disbanded. The Ironwood Hotshots first attained Type 1 Interagency Hotshot Crew certification in 2009.