Jeremy Nelson has spent his career fighting wildfires and says the work will challenge you physically and mentally, but it was always the camaraderie within the crew that kept him going.
Nelson wasn't a part of any crew. As a former Arizona Hotshot, he traveled the U.S. fighting wildfires as one of the most elite crews in the nation. "They become your family. They become, like you know them as your own family," he said.
As the nation mourns the tragic loss of 19 hotshot firefighters in Arizona -- in what is now considered one of the worst wildfire disasters in history -- Nelson says he is in shock over losing more than just a crew of elite firefighters. "I knew quite a bit of the crew, I worked with the crew before, I had them on my division. I've ate dinner with those guys and talked with them at briefings," he said. He's still trying to wrap his head around what went wrong Sunday. "I guess when accidents like that happen, it makes you wish that you were there to support the guys," Nelson said.
And as the grieving continues, so too do the devastating wildland fires that are roaring across Arizona, Southern California and Colorado. The U.S. Forest Service calls upon nationwide resources during times of need -- and a crew from Vermont is geared up and ready to go. The 20-person crew has been called upon in previous years and two Vermonters have already been called this year and are currently out West. Among the Vermont crews waiting to be sent to the fires out west is Ethan Ready, who says this will be his first time being called upon. And after the recent tragic events, he says he accepts the risks that come with fighting fires of high caliber. "In the back of my head, yeah, it's something that you always think about. And it's something that, you know, I hope would never happen to me or anyone that I know, or anyone that I don't know," he said.
Members of the Vermont crew have gone through training -- both physically and mentally -- to prepare for a wide variety of situations and types of fires they may encounter. Ready says being able to respond to these devastating fires means he is able to help those who need it in any way possible, and that help be returned to the Green Mountain State if and when it's needed. "The Northeast, while it isn't known for having a lot of wildfires, we do have them here, and we would expect the same if there was a situation where we needed additional resources," Ready said.