In the United States, a hotshot crew, formally known as an interagency hotshot crew, is a handcrew of 20-22 wildland firefighters which responds to large, high-priority fires across the country and are assigned to work the most challenging parts of the fire. They have specific qualifications to provide leadership for initial-attack and extended-attack on wildland fires, and are trained and equipped to work autonomously in remote areas for extended periods of time with little or no logistical support. Hotshot crews are the most highly trained, skilled, and experienced type of handcrews. Hotshot crews are organized by agencies such as the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and state and county agencies; the National Interagency Fire Center coordinates hotshot crews on the federal level.
Prior to the 1930s, wildland firefighting crews were organized on an "as-needed" basis, hiring firefighters without any formal experience or training. 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. CCC members were also utilized for fire suppression operations, however, marking the first time that standing crews had been established for that purpose.
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. Conflicting sources report the first hotshot crews as starting in 1946 (Del Rosa and Los Padres Hotshots) or 1947 (Del Rosa and El Cariso Hotshots). In 1961, the Interregional Fire Suppression (IRFS) program was developed, establishing six 30-man crews across the Western U.S. 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.
In 1980, the term interagency hotshot crew was adopted by IRFS crews. In the mid-1990s, an Interagency Hotshot Crew Operations Guide was developed to standardize the training, responsibilities, and recognition process of hotshot crews. As of 2018, there were 113 hotshot crews.
A hotshot crew consists of approximately 20–22 members, led by a minimum of one superintendent, one or two assistant superintendents, two or three squad leaders, and two senior firefighters.
Hotshot crews are proficient in a range of fire suppression tactics. Like other handcrews, IHCs are primarily tasked with constructing, firing out,[nb 1] 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 2] to mop-up.[nb 3] They are also trained in specialized operations, such as hot spotting,[nb 4] spot fire attack,[nb 5] tree felling, and structure protection.
In order to effectively perform their duties, hotshot crews must maintain a high level of physical fitness. Aerobic fitness is correlated with the time it takes to reach a safety zone. 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, one and a half-mile run in 10:30 or less, 25 push-ups in 60 seconds, 45 sit-ups in 60 seconds and 2 pull-ups.
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. In 2010, the Cherokee hotshot crew 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.
On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso hotshot crew 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, and 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.
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.
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. The incident was made into a film, Only the Brave.
- Firing out: "The act of setting fire to unburned fuels located between the control line and main fire in burning out operations."
- 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."
- 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."
- 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."
- Spot fire: "Fire ignited outside the perimeter of the main fire by a firebrand."
- "Hotshots | US Forest Service". www.fs.fed.us. Retrieved 2019-10-22.
- Alexander, Martin E. (Summer 1974). "High Mobility: The Interrgional Fire Suppression Crew" (PDF). Fire Management. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
- National Park Service. "History of the Interagency Hotshot Crew Program". Retrieved 2012-07-01.
- "Del Rosa Hot Shots". Fire Department Network news. 2012-06-27. Archived from the original on 2012-06-21. Retrieved 2012-07-18.
- https://www.fs.fed.us/fire/people/hotshots/IHC_list.html#shasta National Forest Service listing
- "Glossary of Wildland Fire Terminology". National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
- 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
- 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
- "Interagency Hotshot Crews". U.S. Forest Service, Fire & Aviation Management. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
- White, Rebecca (September 27, 2010). "Urban Turn for Workers Accustomed to the Forest". The New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
- "Colorado Firecamp - Loop Fire Disaster, A Brief of the Analysis Group". https://www.coloradofirecamp.com/fire-origins/loop-fire-brief.htm.
- 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.