Interagency hotshot crew

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Members of the Flathead IHC

In the United States, an interagency hotshot crew (IHC), or simply hotshot crew, is an elite team of 20 wildland firefighters, the most highly trained in the country, which are prepared to battle the most serious fires nationwide. They meet and exceed the requirements of Type 1 firefighters[1][nb 1] in terms of their extensive training, high physical fitness standards, and ability to undertake difficult, dangerous, and stressful assignments.[4][5] They often respond to large, high-priority fires and are trained and equipped to work in remote areas for extended periods of time with little logistical support.

As an interagency resource, hotshot crews can be requested to respond to wildland fire incidents in any jurisdiction. As of 2018, there were 113 IHCs in operation[6] in the United States, organized by diverse agencies such as the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, as well as state and county governments.[7] The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho coordinates Hotshot crews on the national level.

Hotshot crews trace their history to Southern California in the late 1940s on the Cleveland and Angeles National Forest. The term "hotshot" comes from their having been assigned to the hottest parts of the fire.[4] In American English, the term also denotes "a person who is conspicuously talented or successful".[8]

While not fighting fires, hotshot crews typically work in their home units to meet resource goals such as thinning, prescribed fire operations, habitat improvement, and trail construction projects. Hotshot crews can also respond to other emergency incidents, including search and rescue and disaster response.[4] For example, in 2010 the Cherokee IHC was assigned to clear trees downed by rare tornadoes in Prospect Park and Kissena Park in New York City, their first employment in an urban setting.[9]


Prior to the 1930s, wildland firefighting crews were organized on an "as-needed" basis, hiring firefighters without any formal experience or training.[10] The Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated from 1933 until 1942, was a work relief program that employed young men primarily in natural resource conservation projects. However, CCC members were also utilized for fire suppression operations, marking the first time that standing crews had been established for this purpose.[11]

At least one of the first crews carrying the name "hotshots" grew out of a former CCC camp in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.[12] Conflicting sources report the first hotshot crews as starting in 1946 (Del Rosa and Los Padres Hotshots)[12] or 1947 (Del Rosa and El Cariso Hotshots).[10] In 1961, the Interregional Fire Suppression (IRFS) program was developed, establishing six 30-man crews across the Western U.S.[11] These IRFS crews were stationed near airports for quick transportation to high-priority fires. Due to their effectiveness and value in fire management, the program expanded to 19 IRFS crews by 1974.[10]

In 1980, the term "Interagency Hotshot Crew" was adopted by all IRFS crews.[11] In the mid-1990s, an Interagency Hotshot Crew Operations Guide was developed to standardize the training, responsibilities, and recognition process of IHCs. The number of IHCs has grown to 113 as of 2018, with crews sponsored by diverse federal, state, tribal, and local agencies.[7]


Hotshot crews are known for their extensive training, and are expected to display proficiency in the full range of fire suppression tactics.[5] Like other handcrews, IHCs are primarily tasked with constructing, firing out,[nb 2] and holding handline, through the use of chainsaws, hand tools, ignition devices, and water delivery equipment. Hotshot crews can engage in all phases of wildfire response, from initial attack[nb 3] to mop-up.[nb 4] They are also trained in specialized operations, such as hot spotting,[nb 5] spot fire attack,[nb 6] tree felling, and structure protection. They put out the tiny after-fires.

Fatal accidents[edit]

On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots were trapped by flames in the Loop fire as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon in Angeles National Forest. An unanticipated upslope wind came up in the afternoon and a spot fire was fanned and funneled up the steep canyon. The crew were cutting handline downhill and most of the crew were unable to reach safety in the few seconds they had. Ten members of the crew died on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members died from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the 19 El Cariso crew members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time. The Downhill Indirect Checklist, improved firefighting equipment and better fire behavior training resulted, in part, from lives lost on this fire.[13]

1966 El Cariso Hotshots Crew 2

On July 6, 1994, nine members of a hotshot crew based in Prineville, Oregon, died after being overtaken by the fast-moving Storm King fire west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Five other firefighters, three smokejumpers and two helitack firefighters, also died in the conflagration.[14]

On June 30, 2013, the Prescott Fire Department's hotshot crew perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona. Nineteen of the twenty members of the crew were killed when their escape route was cut off by an approaching fire. All nineteen entrapped members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots deployed their fire shelters.[15]

Living conditions[edit]

Redmond Hotshots crew truck on the Bear Gulch fire in Washington

When not on fire assignments, the crew performs project work such as prescribed burning and fuels reduction.

Living conditions while on assignments can be primitive. Fresh meals, soft beds, and regular showers are not to be expected. Field assignments away from home can last several weeks with daily work shifts averaging sixteen hours, but sometimes extending up to 48–64 hours. Sleep deprivation is common, as is routine exposure to dust, smoke, poison oak, extreme weather (both heat and cold), and other environmental hazards.[citation needed]

Hotshots' crew vehicles become their homes during the peak fire season, when Hotshots may rarely spend more than two consecutive days at their own station. These vehicles, also known as Crew Haulers,Crew transporters, Buggies, Crummies, or simply the Box, carry Hotshots along with their personal gear, tools, and everything else necessary to make the crew self-sufficient for several days.

Crew breakdown[edit]

A crew working a fireline in the Grapevine Pass in California.

A hotshot crew consists of 20–22 members. There are two national formats certified for hotshot crews.

The first format is:

  • One GS-9 superintendent;
  • Two GS-8 foremen, (also known as captains or assistant superintendents)
  • Two GS-6/7 squad leaders;
  • Two to four GS-5 senior firefighters; and
  • Approximately twelve GS-4 and/or GS-3 temporary firefighters.

The second format is

  • One GS-9 superintendent;
  • One GS-8 assistant superintendent;
  • Three GS-6/7 squad leaders;
  • Three GS-5 senior firefighters; and
  • Approximately twelve GS-4 and/or GS-3 temporary firefighters.

In addition, crewmembers are assigned various other specialized roles within the crew structure.

These specialties may include:

Certified as first responders, wilderness first responders, emergency medical technicians-level B or higher.
Helicopter crewmember (HECM)
Responsible for manifesting and packaging crew supplies and equipment into sling-loads for transport by helicopter long-line into and out of remote locations.
Highly skilled chainsaw operators who specialize in the safe felling of hazardous snags and burning or damaged trees.
Saw team
Consisting of one sawyer and one swamper. The sawyer will use a chainsaw to cut brush and woody material away from the fire's edge while the swamper pulls and throws the cut material to the non-fire side of the fire line. The members of these teams sometimes trade tasks each time the chainsaw needs to be refueled.


Physical fitness[edit]

In order to effectively perform their duties, Hotshots must maintain a high level of physical fitness. Whenever they are not on a fire assignment, crews devote at least one hour a day to physical training (PT)[citation needed]. This training can include steep hikes, weight lifting, and long-distance runs. Traditionally, 5- to 10-mile runs were the favored PT for hotshot crews. Recently, there has been a shift towards more hiking. On these hikes, Hotshots may climb without stopping for over an hour while carrying upwards of 60 lbs. in gear and tools.

The minimum recommended physical fitness standards for hotshots set by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group are: a 3-mile hike carrying a 60-pound pack in under 90 minutes, 1½-mile run in 10:30 or less, 25 push-ups in 60 seconds, 45 sit-ups in 60 seconds and 2 pull-ups.[17][5] However, for mobilization to an incident, it is mandated that they can at least perform 40 sit-ups, complete the run in 10:35, and do a variable amount of pull-ups (4-7) dependent on body weight.[5] These recommendations and standards are an absolute minimum and most hotshots' capabilities far exceed those numbers. It is often mandated that all standards be completed consecutively, and that each hotshot also complete a 3-mile hike carrying a 45-pound pack in under 45 minutes.[citation needed] Aerobic fitness and the time it takes to reach a safety zone are highly correlated.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Resource typing is a process used by incident-response organizations to categorize resources, such as handcrews, by capability level.[1][2] As Type 1 handcrews, Hotshot crews are required by definition to be capable of higher handline production rates than Type 2 handcrews.[3]
  2. ^ Firing out: "The act of setting fire to unburned fuels located between the control line and main fire in burning out operations."[1]
  3. ^ Initial attack: "A planned response to a wildfire given the wildfire's potential fire behavior. The objective of initial attack is to stop the fire and put it out in a manner consistent with firefighter and public safety and values to be protected."[1]
  4. ^ Mop up: "Extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines, felling snags, and trenching logs to prevent rolling after an area has burned, to make a fire safe, or to reduce residual smoke."[1]
  5. ^ Hot spotting: "Checking the spread of fire at points of more rapid spread or special threat. Is usually the initial step in prompt control, with emphasis on first priorities."[1]
  6. ^ Spot fire: "Fire ignited outside the perimeter of the main fire by a firebrand."[1]
  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Glossary of Wildland Fire Terminology". National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  2. ^ "Resource Management: Resource Typing". Federal Emergency Management Agency. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  3. ^ "Production Tables: Sustained Line Production Rates of 20-Person Crews for Construction, Burnout, and Holding in Chains/Hour" (PDF). Fireline Handbook. National Wildfire Coordinating Group. p. A-30. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "Interagency Hotshot Crews". U.S. Forest Service, Fire & Aviation Management. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d "Standards for Interagency Hotshot Crew Operations" (PDF). National Interagency Fire Center. 2011. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
  6. ^ National Forest Service listing
  7. ^ a b "National Type 1 Interagency Crews" (PDF). National Interagency Fire Center. 2009. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
  8. ^ "Hotshot". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  9. ^ White, Rebecca (September 27, 2010). "Urban Turn for Workers Accustomed to the Forest". The New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c Alexander, Martin E. (Summer 1974). "High Mobility: The Interrgional Fire Suppression Crew" (PDF). Fire Management. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  11. ^ a b c National Park Service. "History of the Interagency Hotshot Crew Program". Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  12. ^ a b "Del Rosa Hot Shots". Fire Department Network news. 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-07-18.
  13. ^ "Colorado Firecamp - Loop Fire Disaster, A Brief of the Analysis Group".
  14. ^ Butler, Bret W.; Bartlette, Roberta A.; Bradshaw, Larry S.; Cohen, Jack D.; Andrews, Patricia L.; Putnam, Ted; Mangan, Richard J. (September 1998). "Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado" (PDF). Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. United States Department of Agriculture. RMRS-RP-9. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Brian J. Sharkey, Ph.D.; Steven E. Gaskill, Ph.D. "Ch. 6". Fitness and Work Capacity (PDF) (2009 ed.). National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, I D.: National Wildfire Coordinating Group. p. 27. Hotshots Pack Test: Req.; 3-Mile Packout Weight: Rec-60; 1.5-Mile Run time: Rec-10:30; 10 RM Leg Press: 2.5xBW; 10 RM Bench Press: 1.0xBW; Pullups: 2; Pushups: 25; Situps 45
  18. ^ Sharkey, Ph.D., Brian (2001). Wildland Firefighter Health & Safety Report No. 4. Missoula, MT: Missoula Technology and Development Center. study showed that a higher level of fitness is associated with faster travel to a safety zone

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