Carson Hotshots

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Porches shuttle driver by winter… forest firefighter by summer

One of the most wonderful things about The Porches of Steamboat is the people that join our community, from our owners to our guests to our staff. This winter season we were lucky enough to have Grant join our team as a shuttle driver and wow us with stories from his not so typical summer job.

Each year over 100,000 wildfires burn millions of acres of land in the United States. The U.S. Forest Service employs more than 10,000 wildland firefighters from hand crews to smoke jumpers that help suppress, manage, and control these fires. In the summer of 2016, Grant took the call and joined his first fire crew.

Becoming a wildland firefighter…

Growing up in Maryland, it wasn’t until Grant attended West Virginia University and enrolled in the Natural Resources School that he headed down the path of a wildland firefighter. After some recommendations from friends, Grant applied around the country and accepted his first job on a Type 2 crew in Oregon. After his first summer working in Oregon, Grant headed southeast to Steamboat Springs to spend the winter before heading to Montana to join another Type 2 crew.

In the summer of 2018, Grant landed a job as a Carson Hotshot, based in Taos, New Mexico. the Carson Hotshots have been working as a highly skilled crew since 1973. Hotshot crews are often assigned more dangerous tasks than the Type 2 crews that Grant had been on in the past, demanding more training and skill.

Training as a Carson Hotshot

The first two weeks of each fire season consist of refresher courses, field exercises, and intense physical training. Grant recounts the beginning of training last year, “I remember we went on a nine and a half mile run, that was brutal.” Being at the top of their physical fitness is key to the success of the entire team. The gear each crewmember carries is between 35-70 pounds depending on their job within the crew. “Part of our training is also going on gnarly hikes while wearing all of our gear.” 

The Carson Hotshots include a 20-person crew. As a sawyer, Grant is one of the strongest hikers on the crew and is responsible for carrying his 35-pound pack along with a 35-pound chainsaw. It is because of the physical exertion his summer job requires that Grant is glad to call Steamboat home in the winter. Snowboarding, backcountry hikes, and biking help keep him in shape for the next summer season.

Going available

After the first two weeks of training, the crew is ready to go available, meaning they are ready to respond to a call should one come in. When a call comes in, the crew is prepared to be gone for two to three weeks at a time, something that Grant really enjoys about the job. “We are sent all around the country. When the call comes in, we are expected to be on our way within two hours. I really enjoy the travel aspect of the job.”

While their barracks are in Taos, the crew hardly spend much time there, “the way that it works is we have two weeks on and then two days off, not including travel days. Once we are called off, we head back to Taos for our two day break before taking the next call.” For much of the summer, Grant finds himself in the truck on his way to the next fire, sleeping in a tent, and living from his pack.  The schedule of the crew changes depending on where in the country they are. At one fire last summer in California, they found the conditions too hot during the day to get any headway on the fire. “We ended up fighting the fire at night because it was too hot during the day. We’d work from 5pm to 8am, eat breakfast then go to sleep in these air conditioned warehouses, before waking up to do it all again.”

As a hotshot crew, a major part of their responsibility is containment. When roads aren’t available to use as containment lines, Grant’s crew has to dig one. Once the containment line is dug, they use a drip torch to burn the containment line in effort to prevent the fire from crossing it. It’s a job that requires miles and miles of hiking each day, extreme physical labor, and a commitment to safety.

At the end of the day

As part of a 20-person crew travelling the country and performing a dangerous job, the Carson Hotshots form a sort of family unit that is based on trust, and hard work. This profound level of trust is part of what keeps each of them safe, “A lot of people ask me if I have ever felt in danger of my life but I can’t say that I ever have because we are so safe. I’ve had a few minor burns from embers but nothing serious.”

Spending summers as a wildland firefighter is something that Grant has enjoyed pursuing the last few years and hopes to continue to do for a few more. While it’s a sacrifice of time and relationships it’s definitely worth it. 

Winter Break

When the summer fire season comes to an end, Grant enjoys heading back to the Yampa Valley where he has spent the last few winters. As an avid snowboarder and biker, you’ll often find him on the mountain or in the backcountry. This winter season Grant enjoyed a change of pace from his grueling summer job working as a Porches shuttle driver. When asked if he’d return next year it sounded pretty likely, “I love everyone in Steamboat. What’s that curse? The Yampa Valley Curse… that must be why I keep coming back.”

Fun Facts:

Grant has his boots handmade from a boot company out of Washington.

Grant’s crew once experienced an earthquake while fighting a fire in California.

The Carson Hotshots hand make all their own tools because different tools are better for different parts of the country.

In each pack, a hotshot carries: a gallon and a half of drinking water, 24 hours worth of food, a fire shelter, extra gloves, a head lamp, radios, batteries, extra glasses, ear plugs, road flares, and 2 liters of chain saw fluid.

Typically you tie something in to the Porches here, we should throw something in here at the end…