VALRICO, Fla. -
The loss of 19 firefighters who were battling the Arizona wildfire has stunned and saddened Americans coast to coast. But for other firefighters, it is very personal.
"In that mental tool box, you start thinking about, 'what if, what if?'" Tommy Price with the Florida Forest Service would tell me.
Tommy has fought wild fires from coast to coast and north and south. "There is no such thing as a routine wildfire," he would explain. "Every fire is going to be different. Mother nature, at any given time, can throw us a wind burst, which is going to make a big difference on a wildfire."
I saw that first hand, back in 2001 when the Florida Forest Service, then called the Division of Forestry, was fighting the Green Swamp wildfires in Polk County.
While reporting on the fire, it turned and started heading toward our news vehicle as well as the forestry trucks.
It was a mad scramble to get out as the fire raced up across a field, and I shot video of the flames through a mirror as we sped away. (Watch the report from 2001 on my Facebook page at http://wfts.tv/12hV6gn
For all firefighters who battle wildfires, the last resort in a worst case scenario is deploying a fire shelter. It looks just like an aluminum sleeping bag.
The idea is to step inside and lie flat on the ground, belly down, completely covered up by the shelter.
Inside the shelter they put their helmet back, and their hands over their mouth to help breathe the heated air inside the bag, and then they wait for the radio signal to be given, telling them it is safe to come out.
The sad reality is though, the fire shelter will not save a life if the fire envelops the area. The shelter will only reflect radiant or indirect heat.
So as investigators still try to determine what happened and why so many were taken in the wildfire in Arizona, firefighters coast to coast take a moment to remember them and think of their families.
But they also pause and reflect upon their own families, wondering next time when they are out on the front line if they will remember to do all they can to ensure their safety so they come home.
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