An Archbold native has a personal connection to the team of specialized wildland firefighters who died battling a blaze near Yarnell, Ariz., Sunday, June 30.
Adam Lauber, an Archbold native and 1990 Archbold High School graduate, was himself a “hotshot” firefighter doing the same job the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were doing when they died.
A Hotshot crew is a specialized team of firefighters who battle fires in wildland areas. Their job is to deploy quickly ahead of a wildfire and cut a line through the trees or brush.
The goal is to remove potential fuel (trees and brush) from the path of the fire, stopping it before it can spread.
Press reports say investigators are still probing what happened to the Granite Mountain team. The team members, surrounded by flames with no way out, deployed their last resort, aluminum clad fire shelters.
Reports say they pulled their fire shelters around them, forming cocoons in an attempt to protect themselves from the blaze.
Their attempt failed.
Lauber, who has been out of Hotshot work for several years, said he couldn’t speculate on what happened to the Granite Mountain crew.
But, he said, there were thunderstorms in the area. The storms could have created downdrafts that changed wind direction.
“The weather is a huge factor” in fighting wildfires, he said.
Hotshots are taught to mitigate the dangers they find themselves in four ways: lookout, communication, safety zone, escape route.
Each member of the team keeps watch over changing conditions, they communicate potential dangers to one another, they establish a safe zone in which to work, and they maintain an escape route, Lauber said.
Factors such as changing weather conditions and the type of terrain they were working in could have impacted their situation.
Lauber, 42, has a long association with firefighting. His father, Bruce, and his uncle, Graeme, were members of the Archbold Fire Department.
At the age of 14, Lauber was at the scene of a car crash when the late Richard Erbskorn, then AFD chief, handed him a fire hose and told him to direct the stream over the wreckage.
In a 1997 article in this newspaper, Lauber said Erbskorn told him, “Hold this, will ya? I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta do.”
“I will never forget that line,” Lauber said at the time.
After five seasons as a Hotshot, Lauber went on to become a smoke jumper.
Smoke jumpers parachute or rappel down ropes from hovering helicopters into wildland areas to put out things like out-of-control campfires before they become raging wildfires.
He gave up smoke jumping in 2007.
Today, he is a paramedic on the Oakland, Calif., fire department.
He is one year in to an 18- month probationary period.
Oakland has a reputation for street gangs and gang violence, but Lauber said, “It’s a great city, an up-and-coming city.”
Divorced since 2005, he has a 12-year-old daughter, Piper.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.