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Editorial: Doing their job

Killed in the line of duty.

That’s a sad label generally attached to the men and women in our armed services who lose their life on the battlefield. Or, when we hear those words we might think of someone in law enforcement, where an armed confrontation or traffic accident has claimed the life of an officer doing their job.

Less frequent — but no less tragic — is when the “line of duty” involves firefighters.

Arizona and the nation is coming to grips with what happened Sunday evening where an elite squad of firefighters, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, responded to a wildfire that was raging on a mountain in Yarnell, Ariz. Events unfolded in such a way that 19 firefighters died in what is seen as the worst wildfire tragedy in the last 80 years.

Plenty of Americans can’t fathom a having a job that presents a person with such risks to begin with. But these young men, and the many other men and women who are trained to be on Hotshot crews willingly face such dangers in order to protect lives and property. While they no doubt saw themselves as just people trained to do a particular job, they are true heroes.

Unfortunately, there are times when all of the training, equipment and experience possible cannot keep a tragedy from happening.

In this case, a wind-whipped fire, started by a lightning strike, “exploded into a firestorm,” according to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and trapped this team. Though it’s unclear yet how they got caught, the firefighters did deploy their emergency shelters, essentially a shield of fire-resistant material, ones that are supposed to provide them with a degree of protection. But as one fire captain said, “It’ll protect you, but only for a short amount of time ... if it burns intently for any amount of time, while you’re in that thing (the shelter), there’s nothing that’s going to save you from that.”

Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those killed.

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