Granite Mountain Hotshot crew sent to Yarnell fire on scheduled day off

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By John Dougherty

The Granite Mountain Hotshots’ regularly scheduled day off was Sunday, June 30, the day the crew was dispatched to Yarnell and 19 of its 20 members were killed by a wildfire, newly released federal records show.

When Granite Mountain reported to Yarnell it was the 28th day that month the crew had been on duty, according to the records released by the state Forestry Division in response to an Arizona Public Records Law request filed by InvestigativeMEDIA.

The records show the crew worked on fires on the Coconino National Forest and in New Mexico from June 1 through 15. The crew did not work on June 16 and 17 on their regularly scheduled Sunday and Monday days off.

Granite Mountain was then dispatched to the Doce Fire northeast of Prescott from June 18 through 25. The crew was on duty, but not fighting a fire, on June 26 and 27. Granite Mountain was then dispatched to the West Spruce Fire near Prescott on June 28 and 29.

It is uncertain how many hours the Granite Mountain Hotshots put in each day, but a typical shift fighting fires is 16 hours on duty and eight hours of rest, according to the Southwest Area Coordination Center, a federal inter-agency command center in Albuquerque, NM that dispatches Hotshot and other fire crews in Arizona and New Mexico.

Granite Mountain’s heavy workload in June coincides with the Southwest Area Coordination Center’s (SWCC) refusal to dispatch Granite Mountain to Yarnell when requested by the state on the evening of June 29.

After SWCC turned down the request, dispatch logs show, an Arizona forestry dispatcher sent an email directly to Granite Mountain Hotshot superintendent Eric Marsh shortly after 9 p.m., June 29, with a “resource order” directing Granite Mountain to be at Yarnell the next morning.

Neither SWCC nor the state Forestry Division, has responded to InvestigativeMEDIA’s repeated requests of whether SWCC ever approved the state’s resource order to send Granite Mountain to Yarnell.

Federal rules generally require mandatory days off for Hotshot crews after 14 consecutive days on duty. When Granite Mountain reported to Yarnell on its first of two scheduled days off, it was the crew’s 13th consecutive day of work.

The city of Prescott, meanwhile, is circulating an unofficial response to a number of issues raised in InvestigativeMEDIA’s  Aug. 22 report on Granite Mountain’s apparent failure to meet minimum Hotshot crew standards.

According to a “talking points” memorandum prepared by Prescott public information officer Pete Wertheim, Prescott is claiming that it met the Inter-agency Hotshot Crew (IHC) Standards of having a minimum of seven “permanent/career” positions on the 20-person crews.

The city claims in the memo that Chris MacKenzie was employed as a “full-time temporary employee” with no benefits and therefore met the IHC standard.

Records in MacKenzie’s personnel file, however, state he was not a full time employee. On May 6, 2013, Prescott’s Human Resource director included a letter in MacKenzie’s file concerning his employment status. The letter states, in part:

“Due to the temporary and seasonal nature of his position, his hours and employment status vary depending on the time of the year. He was not actively employed with the City of Prescott effective Feb. 1, 2013. He was reinstated to active employment with the Granite Mountain Hotshots as of April 9, 2013.”

Federal Hotshot crews allow permanent/seasonal employees to be included among the seven permanent, career employees. However, such employees receive formal appointments and benefits, federal officials say.

MacKenzie is listed as the seventh required “fully qualified career employee” on Granite Mountain’s Annual IHC Mobilization Checklist certifying that the crew meets minimum standards. The checklist was signed by acting Granite Mountain Hotshot superintendent Jesse Steed, Wildand Division Chief Darrell Willis and Prescott Fire Department chief Dan Fraijo on April 23, 2013.

MacKenzie is also identified as a “senior firefighter” on the IHC Mobilization Checklist with a Firefighter Type 2 certification. The IHC minimum standards for a senior firefighter, however, require a higher level, FFT1 certification.

Wertheim’s “talking points” memo asserts that MacKenzie had met the FFT1 standard to be a senior firefighter by June 30, but provides no supporting documentation.

© Copyright 2013 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA

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