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Credit: Wade Ward / Prescott Fire Department

The Granite Mountain station house is a little corrugated-tin building next to a plumber and a propane shop. It isn't much to look at: a small briefing room filled with dry-erase boards and fire-safety posters ("Your life is more important than any structure!"), a dingy gym with some benches and free weights, and a toolroom filled with Igloo coolers and dirty wrenches. Still, it was an improvement over their last headquarters, a building with no heat or air-conditioning literally next to the city dump. They called it the Barn: When it snowed, the roof would leak, and when it was hot, the squirrels would come in through the windows and steal their sandwiches. The crew moved to a new station in 2010, and the city gave them $15,000 to fix it up. They squeezed every last penny of that money: Captain Jesse Steed's brother did the floors. There wasn't room in the budget for furniture, so they grabbed chairs from the dump or from the side of the road.

On a typical workday, the guys would come in to the station around 8 and get their chores done (Kevin Woyjeck had bathroom duty; Wade Parker took care of the gym), sit for a quick weather briefing in the ready room, and then go out to train for a couple of hours – a hike up Granite Mountain, perhaps, or a one-mile sprint up the steep summit of Thumb Butte while carrying another Hotshot piggyback. Jesse Steed liked to bring along a deck of cards, and whichever one he drew would be the number of push-ups the crew had to do. Usually, they would just end up doing all 380.

Granite Mountain was part of the Prescott Fire Department's Wildland Division. Although wildfires were a bigger threat to the city than structural fires, the Hotshots often felt like second-class citizens. The crew had to buy their own $400 boots, and many of their chain saws were rebuilt from spare parts. (Andrew Ashcraft called his the Frankensaw.) They didn't actually cost the city much money – most of their operating costs were covered by grants, and the city would get reimbursed $39 an hour when they were deployed on federal and state lands. Still, the Hotshots were constantly on the city's chopping block. Eric had to fight for an extra dollar an hour to make the crew's salaries competitive; most of the seasonal guys were making only between $12 and $15 an hour. Over the past year or so, eight full-time positions, which had benefits, shrank to six, and Eric would lie in bed at night trying to figure out how to get those two guys the benefits he thought they deserved.

This spring, in an attempt to get the city to better understand the value of the crew, Eric wrote a manifesto called "Who Are the Granite Mountain Hotshots?" They were the guys who would meet at 3 a.m. to clear the city's streets when it snowed, he said, or take care of Fourth of July fireworks, or show up when somebody needed a chain saw: "When on a fire, we average 16 hours a day on shift, every day, for two weeks. We may hike with all of our gear for one to two hours before we get to our piece of fireline where we will start work. We don't have bathrooms or showers and we eat a lot of bad food. We love it. Off the job, we are husbands, fathers, and boyfriends. We are cowboys, hot rodders, rock climbers, hunters, marathoners, and bicycle racers. Due to our work, we have to fit a year's worth of normal life into a six-month period during our winters. It really makes us appreciate the time with our families."