Shannon: A salute to the brave men and women protecting Arizona

During my 34-year career in emergency services, I have had the great honor of working alongside many amazing public servants.

Fire Chief Tom Shannon

As a firefighter for the past 30 years, I have encountered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women, whose sole focus is to help those in need.

Although I have a substantial understanding of the scope of services and environments in which firefighters perform their work, I recently experienced firsthand the incredible efforts that an elite element of the fire service — wildland firefighters — makes to help community members and visitors in Arizona.

From our residence in Happy Jack, Ariz., my wife and I had front row seats to the origination and termination of the recent Tinder Fire. There is a known maxim within disaster management that states “all disasters are local.”

From the first notification by our neighbor, a contractor and volunteer firefighter, about a fire approximately three miles southwest of our home, it was clear that local professional responders were on it and fighting with all they had to limit the expansion of the fire.

As the first day (April 27) of the fire continued it appeared that the winds and topography were going to be a challenge for the local responders and the initial task force from Payson.

The wildfire in East Clear Creek quickly expanded to over 16,300 acres and required the assignment of a Type I Incident Command Team as well as the response of over 600 firefighters, law enforcement personnel and affiliated services such as public utilities, and local, county, state and federal resources who all arrived with the sole purpose of keeping people safe.

As we prepared to adhere to the mandatory evacuation order, we took the final steps to prepare our home and the surrounding property for the emerging threat. Then, from the safety of our home in Scottsdale, we anxiously watched our security cameras in Happy Jack as the fire closed in on our neighborhood.

We knew there were brave professional and volunteer responders intentionally putting themselves in harms way to protect residents, homes and the beautiful Mogollon Rim region. Working in very hostile conditions, firefighters and responders literally ran from home to home putting out fires that rolled out of East Clear Creek canyons and ridgelines.

The frenzied ground effort was backed by a precision team of Unified (embedded Law Enforcement and Emergency Management) Commanders whose vision of the direction and scope of the fire was met with the appropriate resources needed to minimize damage.

Sadly, my sister and brother-in-law lost their home.

Assessing their loss and understanding the relationship between topography, weather and fuel sources, I was amazed that more homes were not lost. The work of the incredible responders helped prevent damage that could have been much worse.

Watching media coverage describing the loss of forest, it was easy to lose sight of the effort to save lives and property. That is why I want to thank, on behalf of the Happy Jack community, the hundreds of volunteers, local responders, professional law enforcement and structural firefighters, support resources in the Red Cross, public works and utilities and the charitable organizations and nearby communities who opened their doors to help complete strangers.

And, of course, I am especially grateful to the responding Task Force, Type 3, 2 and 1 wild land firefighting personnel who risked their lives.

In recent days I have had the chance to thank many of the ground troops, tactical and strategic leadership and support resources personally as they finish the work of returning the region to as close to normal as possible.

With each “thank you,” I was met with the most humble responses. It struck me that these people are the same type of person as those I have met along my career path: caring and tenacious operators in their fields who simply want to help others.

In a time when evidence of compassion for others seems light, I can say in my field of vision that Scottsdale, Happy Jack and greater Arizona is filled with thoughtful and incredibly skillful people whose sole focus is to be there to help those in need.

With the greatest of appreciation to all of them,

Editor’s note: Mr. Shannon is the chief of the Scottsdale Fire Department

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