Senator Conrad Burns and the Hot Shots

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Two years ago today, on July 23, 2006, the Augusta Hot Shots from Virginia were at the Billings, Montana airport waiting for a flight home after working on the Bundy Railroad fire near Worden. The fire had been contained on July 19 and was being demobilized.

Montana Senator Conrad Burns approached them and told them that they had done “a poor job” of fighting the 92,000 acre fire.

Burns went on to say to the Hot Shots:

“See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.”

The firefighters had a lot more class than the Senator. Their response to him was:

“Have nice day.”

Folks got mad. Everyone in Montana and in most of the West is a firefighter, was a firefighter, is related to a firefighter, or knows a firefighter. Almost all, except for the good Senator Burns, respect the work that firefighters do.

Burns was up for re-election, running against Democrat Jon Tester. Soon, 1,000 “Wildland Firefighters for Tester” bumper stickers appeared. Tester won by about 2000 votes, and the leading political columnist for the Lee Newspaper chain credited the “firefighter flap.” The Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate by a margin of one.

On this 2nd anniversary, as firefighters we need to remember that even though our numbers are small, our impact can be impressive.

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