Yarnell Hill Fire survivor gets book deal

Brendan McDonough
Brendan McDonough speaks at the memorial service for his 19 fellow crewmembers killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert, July 9, 2013.

The only survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ tragedy during the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona has signed a book deal with a best-selling author. Brendan McDonough was serving as a lookout when the other 19 members of his crew were entrapped by the fire and killed.

Publisher’s Marketplace provides this teaser about the book:

Firefighter Brendan McDonough with NYT bestselling author Stephan Talty. The untold story from the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Arizona Republic:

A Prescott wildfire lookout who lived through the deadly Yarnell Hill blaze of 2013 signed a book deal at about the same time his sworn testimony was canceled based on concerns from his therapist that a deposition would jeopardize his treatment for post-traumatic stress.

Former Granite Mountain Hotshots member Brendan McDonough has been working with best-selling author Stephan Talty to produce a book that, according to online promotional materials, will reveal “the untold story from the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire.”

McDonough, who has retained a private attorney and an agent, barely escaped flames that killed 19 fellow hotshots June 30, 2013. Reached by phone Monday, he declined to explain why his treatment precluded sworn testimony but did not prevent participation in a book. He referred calls to his legal representative and his agent.

In an interview last week, Los Angeles-based agent Steve Fisher confirmed that a book is in the offing…

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. Google+

42 thoughts on “Yarnell Hill Fire survivor gets book deal”

  1. This could be messy. No blame at all for Brendan taking the book deal, but the juxtaposition with the cancelled testimony just doesn’t seem right. And I wonder if we’ll finally get good lessons learned between the Talty-Donut and McLean books… short of hiring the Spanish Inquisition to help interview some officials and assist with FOIA.

  2. I’m not sure the exact circumstances of the requested testimony. But in general, we have an adversarial justice system, which could cause testifying to be traumatic, in addition to any effects of recalling that day.

  3. Not willing to tell the true story for the investigation, nor court testimony, but willing to for the purpose of selling books???

    Sorry Brendan, this is not a very honorable move.

    A total disrespect of your fellow GMHS and their families. Unless of course, all proceeds from teh book will go to teh families. But if that is the case, you should make it clear, now.

    1. Add to that, not willing to tell the truth right after the fire, and waiting 16 months or whatever to come out with this new story of an argument and the crew being ordered to the ranch and their death. Did he wait because he wanted to scoop it in his book? Either way, dishonorable is the word. And giving the profits to the family doesn’t mitigate that at all. It’s just wrong.

      1. I haven’t seen anything suggesting he wasn’t willing to talk to talk to the investigators. Did I miss that, and if so, can you please point to the source?

        1. Hope everyone can move on hes been hurt as much he lost friends co workers and he saw the worst prayers to him..but yes all monies from book should go to help the familys who lost a love one…honest is honest..do the right thing brandon

    2. Who ever said the book would be strictly about the fire and what happened? It’s HIS book, so could it actually be about HIS life? Great job jumping to conclusions.

  4. Young man – traumatic event – incredible national attention – PTSD – offer of big bucks – an emotional roller coaster!
    Thank Gawd I’m not in that situation.
    Best of luck with the rest of your life, Brendan: there are challenges ahead you cannot imagine.

  5. This is not the way of the Hotshots. As a Hotshot he should be speaking up to his firefighting community not a writer. Very sad day for the Hotshots and the fire community.

  6. Wow

    There are problems all around all of this

    Lot of blame to go around……get off of the guys back.

    Leadership? Let look at the ENTIRE problem other than Mr McDonough…he has plenty to live with….let us look at the failure of the program that got 19 killed

    Apparently the training is quite to blame…..

  7. It is a little disheartening that it takes more than 16 months for the truth to come out. If the truth was known right after the incident and the Forest Service squelched the Blue Ridge Hotshots from telling what they knew, the F.S. is at fault and should answer for the cover up. Mr. McDonough could not have been the only one to hear the transmissions of the order to come out of the black. Even though each crew has their own crew net others could have heard.
    Where I am critical of fire managers in this day and age is not attacking the fire the night it was reported. The reason given is that it was too dangerous to do it at night. Why? Because it was dark?
    For eighteen years I initial attacked fires with crews the moment they were detected. Many were at night and we didn’t use the same tactics as finding them during daylight. Sometimes it took hours but when we got to them they were usually small and low intensity. We could put in alot of line before the burning period picked up.
    If this fire had been attacked during the night the next day would have been quite different.

  8. I am sorry but I don’t buy his crap any longer. Several in the wildland fire community know what took place there..Brendan knows what took place there yet refuses to tell it to investigators?. What several Blue Ridge Hotshots know and what Brendan knows will sink the families lawsuits..He knows it they know it…and many others know it. He’s off on the PTSD train trying to get retirement from a system he never paid into or belonged too..He told Chief Willis what happened..now Chief Willis reports it to the city attorney…Brendan back tracks…He’s playing the system…NOT the Hotshot way!.

  9. Let us not criticise the living, for the sake of the dead.

    Shall we criticise Norman McLean for profiting from the deaths of Mann Gulch? His Son for the deaths of Storm King? Chris Kyle’s wife (American Sniper) for profiting from her husbands death?

    It appears that the comments published uphold an idealistic view of being a Hotshot. Half of a typical hotshot crew qualifies for food stamps. The average age is 25.

    There is no “typical Hotshot”, nor a “way of the Hotshot”. If there was a “way of the Hotshot” It would probably include lessons on how to drink as hard as you can, chew as much tobacco as you can, and make as much money as you can in as short a period as possible. It may also include a lesson on not “criticising others actions in a public forum”.

  10. Bottom line: Will we ever learn what really happened so as to have a chance to save lives in the future?
    And will management learn that they are accountable to fire fighters and the public, or will they get away with different lessons?

    1. Management will only be accountable for what they want to be accountable for, no more, and certainly no less. Ever. If they don’t like what you have to say, or you can submit proof, they would rather ignore you…….

      1. And your opinion is based on how many seasons of wildland fire management, experience in working for which agencies, and unbiased by personal events that may have shaped your opinion?

  11. I dont get what the big deal is. So he wants to write a book.

    I am sick to death of the system anyway. We wanted to run that senator out of town the other day for asking questions.

    No one takes responsibility, no accountability, if you ask questions you are on the wrong team. We wont change and wont tolerate anyone taking a look at how we operate unless they can tell us the air speed velocity of an unladen African swallow.

    I hope he writes the dang thing and we learn something. Maybe the supervisors or the “brotherhood” wont be able to stifle the information, if there is any information to be stifled.

    Just my humble opinion, worth as much as the time it takes to read it.

    1. Mr. Zero. More than once you have defended the Senator, saying he is only “asking questions”. If that is what he did, few would have a problem with his inflammatory letter. Using his experience as a Senator, he made some guesses and assumptions about what led to the escape. He said “The Cold Brook Fire could easily have been prevented”.

      He also said “extremely dry conditions” was a cause of the escape. Then later he said “tinder dry forestland or grassland when extremely dry conditions exist is entirely unwarranted and inexcusable and once started has a high likelihood of burning out of control.”

      How does he “know” this? His guesses may prove to be right, or not. He also demanded a review, which of course is always done after a major escaped fire.

      This knee-jerk reaction from a Senator about a fire is not the first time it has happened. After the Thirty Mile Fire Senator Maria Cantwell and U.S. Representative Doc Hastings introduced what became Public Law 107-203 in 2002. This law requires that a federal criminal investigation occur after every fatality of a USFS employee on a fire. After a firefighter was faced with numerous felony charges related to that fire, this stupid law has led to firefighters with knowledge of what happened to refuse to say anything, and to lawyer up, making it difficult or impossible to learn any lessons which could keep other firefighters from being killed.

      Let’s find out what happened, before throwing around irresponsible assumptions.

      1. I don’t think that zero was defending the Senator, just pointing out that we were quick to grab the torches and pitchforks.

        Probably a good point, and it would probably be good to point out to our Honorable Elected Official that he was quick to do the same thing.

        We gain very little by being so quick to accuse.

  12. To me, the minute that the incident happened, there was going to be a book. Somehow I doubt he withheld anything from investigators just to have a scoop for his planned book.

    If I go my entire life and don’t experience anything book worthy, I’ll consider it a success, my sympathy is still with Mr. McDonough and the families of the Granite Mountain crew.

    I would save my attacks until after the book is out, and see if what he is being accused of has a basis in fact before I started name calling.

    The accusatory tone is very similar to the letter written by the senator.

  13. Difference between Mann gulch and American Sniper versus Yarnell…. the truth was out there before the book.

    Not using the desire to find answers as a springboard to get a book deal…

    Subtle difference, but very different emotional impact

    1. It isn’t helpful to assume that Brendan has lied or has not yet told the truth. Maybe he has. We should not prejudge him before the book comes out.

  14. @Gordie: great perspective.
    Have you read the first amazon review on Kyle Dickman’s Yarnell book?

    1. No, I had not. I will probably get it, to see if there is anything I can glean from it on my own.

      As a strike team leader, I can be in charge of as many people as a hotshot crew. Placing those people at risk is my greatest concern. Anything I can do to improve the likelihood they will return to their wives, husbands, friends and kids is worth looking at.

      I have to say, I AM getting sick and tired of all of the backbiting, recriminations, hating, fighting, hints, allegations and things better left unsaid. Fault is overrated. Internet bickering helps nobody.

  15. There is no “hot shot way” if we are talking about ethics, morals, etc… we are talking about the Human Way.. there is no special thing that hot shots do or are a part of. Firefighters are all firefighters no matter what your job or your crew affiliation… This idea that hot shots are special has to go.

    The Yarnell incident has now become the most disgusting thing I have encountered in our community in 22 years.. Nothing left to do but walk away from this one… … With respect and honor for the 19 …

    1. “Firefighters are Firefighters”…… Great thought out statement…

      I’d like to see a lot of the wildland community take thee assignments and do the jobs Hotshots do. They are a Specialized wildland force.

      1. Of course they are, but does that mean there’s only one ‘Hotshot Way?’ And does that preclude writing a book? If there’s a settlement of the lawsuit, I’m concerned that part of the settlement will be to not speak about the findings. If that’s the case (I know, big ‘If’) then this book may be the place the rest of us learn more about what happened.

        I don’t have any problem with his writing the book. I do have questions about his not participating in the deposition, and would like to know more about which party wanted to continue (postpone) it.

        1. First let me say there is no Hot Shot way.
          However there is Hot Shot Pride, working as a hot shot on a crew any crew is unique. Your crew is special. Check out the reunions of different crews.
          Crews are special to each other and there is a pride of belonging. Those that you worked with and those that worked as Hot Shots all call each other brother That is unique among Hot Shots.
          I think the only thing being said here is McDonough should have respected his Crew and stated every thing he knew and herd from the beginning he owed that to all his brothers and the Fire community. If mistakes were made live up to them and move on as in so many other past fires there’s always some thing to learn.

  16. there is still so much to learn about this that “moving on” won’t serve anyone’s interests in the community. There seems to be a fascinating, interpersonal aspect to this tragedy that speaks to the limitations of the wildland firefighting culture and the personalities that perpetuate it. In my day, (1977-1998) it was the “Can do” attitude. Now, it seems to be the “hotshot way”? What was the dynamic between Steed and Marsh? Why did he (Steed) ultimately agree to to leave the black when his best instincts told him it was dangerous? He was obviously a strong, opinionated leader yet he left the black anyway. Why did EVERYONE follow him? Wasn’t there a single member of the GMHS crew who felt empowered enough to say “No, I’m not going, it’s not safe”? Medicine currently embraces a collaborative approach where any member of the team can (and does) feel empowered to voice objections or suggestions to tailor the situation at hand. This was also a standard when I was a jumper, although that standard obviously faltered on the South Canyon Fire. I think we should pick this apart in as minute detail as possible and extract every conceivable lesson from it.

    1. Joe I totally agree, I also think some one besides Hot Shots have coined the phrase the “Hot Shot Way” not Hot Shots.
      There is no Smoke Jumper Way just a Smoke Jumper Brotherhood as also a Hot Shot Brotherhood.

    2. Very well said Mr Hill. There is the appearance that for some reason not all the information is surfacing with regard to this incident.

    3. Joe, jumpers would argue about tactics, but how many times did you see someone turn down a jump for safety reasons? I was only there four years but I never saw it.

      1. Sunil,
        good to hear from you after all these years. Not since the demise of Hubble’s blog, I think.

        Not to be argumentatitive, my experience with turning down jumps was different from yours. I can recount dozens of times in my career, particularly when you include high winds, piss poor jump spots, or a fire that was obviously showing such aggressive fire behavior that putting a dozen or so jumpers out was reckless. This decision was usually derived after consulting with the spotter and the first couple of guys in the door. Unless, of course, you were in Alaska and then everyone jumped anyway.

        Not to hold the jumpers up as the venerable icons of safety in all regards. I recognized the tremendous peer pressure that existed to get the job done with as little fuss as possible, always sensitive to the (unfounded) criticism that jumpers were high maintenance, and/or horrified at the prospect that one would be regarded by one’s peers as not having the right stuff if you did anything with less than aggressive enthusiasm…

        That being saiud, I can’t help but think what would have happened if there had been one or two detailed jumpers (or a couple of salty, old district fuels guys) on Granite Mountain when they were asked to leave the black and head to the ranch. Just supposing.

        I really think firefighting culture needs to change to a more collaborative model where any firefighter can insititute a “time out” and re-evaluation of tactics and strategy.

        Joe Hill

        1. Hi Joe,
          I don’t think you’re being argumentative, and I’m glad you saw it happen. My four years is a small sample, and the dynamics are going to be different the saltier the load. I do think that there’s a difference between being told you have the right to say no and the ability to actually do it and not have it as a mark against you.

          I think you are right that things may have been different had some really experienced firefighters been on the Granite Mtn crew.

          Speaking of Hubble, I finished his book a couple of weeks ago, and am on Rod Dow’s now, which I’m enjoying immensely. Bob mentioned the fire we worked together back in ’94.

          Hope all is well with you.


  17. Doesn’t the idea of extracting every possible safety lesson presuppose the radical notion that firefighter lives are more important than the comfort and well being of administrators and attorneys?

  18. Hope brendon sorry above post name wrong…do the right thing donate to the familys who lost their love ones plus your friends coworkers …honest is best…praying your healing now also..we never forget..prescott and the usa prayes for you too

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