Taking the heat

Hotshots firefighters like job, but it doesn't leave time for dating

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When the job requires you to be gone for weeks at a time, placing yourself in dangerous situations fighting fires in remote locations, it's not easy having a normal family life.

That's why a majority of the Craig Hotshots are young, physically fit and single.

Their chosen lifestyle has them on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the fire season and into the spring and fall when needed. Their job often involves making the initial attack on a fire that is threatening to explode into a big fire or already has.

"It's like the Holy Grail of jobs when you land here," said Matt Kilgrif, squad boss for the Craig Hotshots. "With fire, you always are experiencing new things. If you like to work hard, and don't mind getting dirty, this is a great job."

Kilgrif works with 20 firefighters, who each sign a three-year commitment to become members of the crew.

"That's the strength of a hotshot crew, 20 people working together as a team," Kilgrif said. "It's a force multiplier effect, where a trained crew equals much more than 20 individuals."

Potential Hotshots take a month of classes after signing up, followed by a period of training sessions. The new crewmembers scheduled to start in Craig next week will face 80 hours of training.

Hotshots are a federal resource and are one of 12 units under the direction of the Bureau of Land Management.

The firefighters can be sent anywhere in the country to fight fires. Last year, the Craig Hotshots fought fires in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah and Nevada.

"Six percent of last year's fires went big," Kilgrif said. "We mostly worked two weeks, had two days off, and then were re-deployed."

People with children don't stay on the job long because of the lifestyle that firefighters live, Kilgrif said. There's a lot of time on the road during the peak fire season.

"Girlfriend? That's the person you see in the winter," Kilgrif said. "I remember her."

During the off-season, some crewmembers work on advanced degrees and some train for marathons. Many like to travel when a summer of fighting fires comes to an end.

"Everyone has a little cash because you've been working all summer," Kilgrif said. "They want to go somewhere cool, by water, and not smoky. I like escalators. I don't want to climb any hills."

People join the Hotshots for a variety of reasons, Kilgrif said. Many are pursuing academic, travel or outdoor recreation careers. Skiing is big among the Craig Hotshots.

"It works well with Steamboat (Springs) being right down the road," Kilgrif said. "Hunting is also big on this crew."

The Craig location works for the government, as well. Crews can be anywhere in Colorado in one day, and most of the western region can be covered in a two-day drive.

The group spent time in Gulfport, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina last fall, where they distributed food and water. They also were assigned control of warehouses and trucking invoices for the relief effort.

When fighting fires, the crews -- ranging from local youths to law school graduates -- must adhere to a strict 2-to-1 ratio of hours worked to time off. Initial attack crews often spend more than 16 hours on the line, then must take eight hours off to rest.

But once their work is done, they spend time together for fun, too.

"I predict you'll see a lot of road bicycles on the highway between Craig and Steamboat this summer," Kilgrif said.

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