Interagency hotshot crew

In the United States, an Interagency hotshot crew (IHC), or simply hotshot crew, is an elite handcrew consisting of 20-22 wildland firefighters, with specific qualifications to provide leadership for initial-attack and extended-attack on wildland fires across the nation. They often respond to the large, most high-priority fires and are trained/equipped to work in remote areas for extended periods of time with little logistical support, as they are assigned to work the most challenging parts of the fire. Interagency hotshot crews are the most highly trained, skilled, and experienced type of handcrews, as they consist of the most elite wildland firefighters in the country. [1]

In the United States, hotshot crews are organized by agencies such as the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and state/county agencies. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho coordinates hotshot crews on the national level.

IHC history comes from Southern California in the late 1940s on the Angeles National Forest. The best teams of wildland firefighters earned the name "hotshots", having been assigned to the hottest parts of the fire. In American English, the term also denotes "a person who is conspicuously talented or successful".[2]


Prior to the 1930s, wildland firefighting crews were organized on an "as-needed" basis, hiring firefighters without any formal experience or training.[3] The Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated from 1933 until 1942, was a work relief program that employed young men primarily in natural resource conservation projects. However, CCC members were also utilized for fire suppression operations, marking the first time that standing crews had been established for this purpose.[4]

At least one of the first crews carrying the name "hotshots" grew out of a former CCC camp in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.[5] Conflicting sources report the first hotshot crews as starting in 1946 (Del Rosa and Los Padres Hotshots)[5] or 1947 (Del Rosa and El Cariso Hotshots).[3] In 1961, the Interregional Fire Suppression (IRFS) program was developed, establishing six 30-man crews across the Western U.S.[4] These IRFS crews were stationed near airports for quick transportation to high-priority fires. Due to their effectiveness and value in fire management, the program expanded to 19 IRFS crews by 1974.[3]

In 1980, the term "Interagency Hotshot Crew" was adopted by all IRFS crews.[4] In the mid-1990s, an Interagency Hotshot Crew Operations Guide was developed to standardize the training, responsibilities, and recognition process of IHCs. The number of IHCs has grown to 113 as of 2018, with crews sponsored by diverse federal, state, tribal, and local agencies.[6]


Hotshot crews are known for their extensive training, and are expected to display proficiency in the full range of fire suppression tactics.[7] Like other handcrews, IHCs are primarily tasked with constructing, firing out,[nb 1] and holding handline, through the use of chainsaws, hand tools, ignition devices, and water delivery equipment. Hotshot crews can engage in all phases of wildfire response, from initial attack[nb 2] to mop-up.[nb 3] They are also trained in specialized operations, such as hot spotting,[nb 4] spot fire attack,[nb 5] tree felling, and structure protection.

Fatal accidents

On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots were trapped by flames in the Loop Fire as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon in Angeles National Forest. An unanticipated upslope wind came up in the afternoon and a spot fire was fanned and funneled up the steep canyon. The crew were cutting handline downhill and most of the crew were unable to reach safety in the few seconds they had. Ten members of the crew died on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members died from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the 19 El Cariso crew members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time. The Downhill Indirect Checklist, improved firefighting equipment and better fire behavior training resulted, in part, from lives lost on this fire.[9]

On July 6, 1994, nine members of a hotshot crew based in Prineville, Oregon, died after being overtaken by the fast-moving Storm King fire west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Five other firefighters, three smokejumpers and two helitack firefighters, also died in the conflagration.[10]

On June 30, 2013, the Prescott Fire Department's hotshot crew perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona. Nineteen of the twenty members of the crew were killed when their escape route was cut off by an approaching fire. All nineteen entrapped members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots deployed their fire shelters.[11]

Living conditions

When not on fire assignments- hotshot crews are stationed at their home unit, they perform project work such as prescribed burning and fuels reduction.

When on fire assignments- fresh meals, soft beds and regular showers are not to be expected. Assignments away from home can last several weeks with daily work shifts averaging sixteen hours, but sometimes extending up to 48–64 hours. Sleep deprivation is common, as is routine exposure to heat, smoke/dust, extreme weather and other environmental hazards.

Hotshots' crew-vehicles (buggies) become their homes during the fire season, as Hotshots may rarely spend more than two consecutive days at their own station. These vehicles carry hotshots along with their personal gear, tools, MREs/water and everything necessary to make the crew self-sufficient for several weeks.

Crew breakdown

A hotshot crew consists of 20–22 members.

The crew breakdown:

  • One GS-9 superintendent;
  • One to Two GS-8 foremen;
  • Two to Three GS-6/7 squad leaders;
  • Three to Four GS-5 senior firefighters;
  • Approximately twelve GS-3/4 temporary firefighters.

Crewmembers are assigned specialized roles. These specialties may include:

wilderness first responders and emergency medical technicians.
Helicopter crewmember
Responsible for coordinating crew communications with helicopter. Packs equipment into sling-loads for transport by helicopter long-line transport into and out of remote locations.
Highly skilled chainsaw operators who specialize in the safe felling of hazardous snags and burning trees.
Saw team
Consisting of one sawyer and one swamper. The sawyer will use a chainsaw to cut trees, brush and woody-material away from the fire's edge, while the swamper pulls and throws the cut material into the non-fire side of the fire line. The members of these teams sometimes trade tasks each time the chainsaw needs to be refueled.
Crewmember in charge of leading the line-dig. Handtools are used clear out all vegetation and soil that could spread fire.
Crewmember in charge of making sure the line-dig leaves a quality product, usually using a small rake, called a monkey paw.


Physical fitness

In order to effectively perform their duties, Hotshots must maintain a high level of physical fitness. Whenever they are not on a fire assignment, crews devote at least one hour a day to physical training (PT). This training can include steep hikes, weight lifting, and long-distance runs. Traditionally, 5- to 10-mile runs were the favored PT for hotshot crews. Recently, there has been a shift towards more hiking. On these hikes, Hotshots may climb without stopping for over an hour while carrying upwards of 60 lbs. in gear and tools.

The minimum recommended physical fitness standards for hotshots set by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group are: a 3-mile hike carrying a 60-pound pack in under 90 minutes, one and a half-mile run in 10:30 or less, 25 push-ups in 60 seconds, 45 sit-ups in 60 seconds and 2 pull-ups.[13][7] However, for mobilization to an incident, it is mandated that they can at least perform 40 sit-ups, complete the run in 10:35, and do a variable amount of pull-ups (4-7) dependent on body weight.[7] These recommendations and standards are an absolute minimum and most hotshots' capabilities far exceed those numbers. It is often mandated that all standards be completed consecutively, and that each hotshot also complete a 3-mile hike carrying a 45-pound pack in under 45 minutes. Aerobic fitness and the time it takes to reach a safety zone are highly correlated.[14]

See also


  1. Firing out: "The act of setting fire to unburned fuels located between the control line and main fire in burning out operations."[8]
  2. Initial attack: "A planned response to a wildfire given the wildfire's potential fire behavior. The objective of initial attack is to stop the fire and put it out in a manner consistent with firefighter and public safety and values to be protected."[8]
  3. Mop up: "Extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines, felling snags, and trenching logs to prevent rolling after an area has burned, to make a fire safe, or to reduce residual smoke."[8]
  4. Hot spotting: "Checking the spread of fire at points of more rapid spread or special threat. Is usually the initial step in prompt control, with emphasis on first priorities."[8]
  5. Spot fire: "Fire ignited outside the perimeter of the main fire by a firebrand."[8]
  1. "Hotshots | US Forest Service". Retrieved 2019-10-22.
  2. "Hotshot". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  3. Alexander, Martin E. (Summer 1974). "High Mobility: The Interrgional Fire Suppression Crew" (PDF). Fire Management. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  4. National Park Service. "History of the Interagency Hotshot Crew Program". Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  5. "Del Rosa Hot Shots". Fire Department Network news. 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-07-18.
  6. "Colorado Firecamp - Loop Fire Disaster, A Brief of the Analysis Group".
  7. Butler, Bret W.; Bartlette, Roberta A.; Bradshaw, Larry S.; Cohen, Jack D.; Andrews, Patricia L.; Putnam, Ted; Mangan, Richard J. (September 1998). "Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado" (PDF). Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. United States Department of Agriculture. RMRS-RP-9. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
  10. Brian J. Sharkey, Ph.D.; Steven E. Gaskill, Ph.D. "Ch. 6". Fitness and Work Capacity (PDF) (2009 ed.). National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, I D.: National Wildfire Coordinating Group. p. 27. Hotshots Pack Test: Req.; 3-Mile Packout Weight: Rec-60; 1.5-Mile Run time: Rec-10:30; 10 RM Leg Press: 2.5xBW; 10 RM Bench Press: 1.0xBW; Pullups: 2; Pushups: 25; Situps 45
  11. Sharkey, Ph.D., Brian (2001). Wildland Firefighter Health & Safety Report No. 4. Missoula, MT: Missoula Technology and Development Center. study showed that a higher level of fitness is associated with faster travel to a safety zone
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