Ironwood Hotshots disbanded

northwest fire districtOne of the two Interagency Hotshot Crews not run by a state or federal agency has been disbanded. The Ironwood Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC), formed by the Northwest Fire District near Tucson, Arizona, was shut down October 3.

In 2008 the District’s Type 2 Initial Attack crew became a trainee Type 1 crew, and achieved Type 1 status in late 2009 with Greg Smith as the Superintendent. Between 2008 and 2014 they responded to 118 fires for a total of 924 days — an average of 103 days a year.

Now that the Ironwood Hotshots are gone, that leaves 114 IHCs in the United States, with 109 being federal (USFS, BLM, BIA, and NPS), 4 run by states (Utah and Alaska), and 1 County crew (Kern County in southern California). The official list of Hotshot crews on the U.S. Forest Service website shows the Sierra Hotshots as being a “county” crew, but that is incorrect — they are part of the Sierra National Forest, but the Rio Bravo crew listed as USFS is actually a Kern County Crew

The Granite Mountain Hotshots were a city-based crew with the Prescott Fire Department in Arizona. We checked today with spokesperson for the city Catherine Sebold, who said the city “has not made a firm decision” about rebuilding the crew after 19 of the 20 Granite Mountain crew members were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire June 30, 2013.

The Northwest Fire District first announced on March 4, 2014 that the crew would be disbanded. A petition at that encouraged the retention of the crew cited fear of lawsuits, such as those filed against the City of Prescott following their disaster last year.

On March 5, 2013 we talked to David Gephart, the District’s Finance Director, who told us the crew was being disbanded for “financial and operational” reasons. He said one of the operational considerations was that the District had some vacant structural firefighting positions it needed to fill, and the seven permanent members of the crew will be offered those positions. Four of those seven have already been through the structural fire academy, while three have not but will be scheduled to receive the training.

When a firefighting resource, such as a hotshot crew or fire engine from one agency 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. The reimbursement amount is based on the crewperson hours worked. That rate is almost three times the actual hourly rate the District pays the firefighters, in order to cover other expenses related to the fire assignment. For example, the Prescott Fire Department was reimbursed for 95.5 percent of the total expenses of operating the Granite Mountain Hotshots in the 2012 fiscal year, according to an article in The Daily Courier.

Mr. Gephart provided figures for the fiscal years 2011 through 2013 showing that the operational expenses for the Ironwood Hotshots for that three year period were $7.3 million. They were reimbursed for $7.2 million, or, 98.6 percent of their costs.

We asked if the 200 other firefighters that the District employs were expected to generate their own funding, and Mr. Gephart said they were not.

He pointed out that there are other costs for maintaining the Hotshot crew that are are not included above which are more difficult to put on a spread sheet, including overhead, indirect, capital needs, and IT expenses.

Since the crew came within about one percent of being self-supporting, we asked why the Hotshots were created in the first place. Mr. Gephart said they expected the crew to make money for the District, or in a worst case, break even. He went on to say future costs would have a negative effect on the crew’s financial situation, such as a new requirement that the 13 seasonal firefighters have health insurance, and increases in the cost of pensions.

In a press release the Fire District  said the disbanding of the Ironwood Hotshots was not a reaction to the tragic Yarnell Hill Fire:

[The District was] in contact with the District’s insurance carrier. This was done as part of the District’s due diligence to ensure we are appropriately protected as an organization and were planning appropriately for any potential rate adjustments that could be attributed to the ongoing Yarnell ligation and our continued support of a Type I Hotshot Crew. Essentially, we were concerned that our insurance rates might increase just for having a Hotshot Crew. However, we learned there would be no additional insurance costs projected for this year.

About the petition at, the District’s press release said it contained “numerous inaccuracies”, without being specific about what they were.

This article was edited after a second error was found on the USFS’ list of Hotshot Crews.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Ironwood Hotshots disbanded”

  1. All across the US, local governments and Agencies do things that I don’t agree with, but since I’m neither a voter nor a taxpayer in those Jurisdictions, it’s really none of my business. Seems like this is the case in the “Ironwood” situation?

  2. As a small government manager, I would consider any of our resources that achieved greater than 90% reimbursement in about 1/3 of the year to be a job well done. Even if it took them 1/2 the year to get 103 days on fire, they probably worked some at their home unit in between. That leaves them available for our use for about 2/3 of the year at a 10% cost to my taxpayers. I would understand if they were going from a Type 1 crew to a Type 2 crew due to qualifications, but what I see is a lot of the story not being told.


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