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Vermont Firefighter Trained Fallen Arizona Hot Shots

A small town drew national and even international attention last week when 19 firefighters known as “Hot Shots” died while trying to keep a raging wildfire from destroying lives and homes in Arizona. The men were killed when the winds shifted nearly 180 degrees and cut off their access to the safety zone, a large ranch property.

The elite team from Prescott was known to virtually everyone in that town, and to a Vermont firefighter who served as a Hot Shot for 14 years.

39-year old Jeremy Neslon lives in Rutland now, and works as the Assistant Fire Manager Officer for the Green Mountain National Forest, but for more than a decade he fought fires in Arizona and other parts of the southwestern U.S., as one of the renowned “Hot Shot” crew. He also trained with and got to know many of the young men who died last week while trying to save others.

"You build these interpersonal relationships because of the sheer fact of the danger of what we do" -Jeremy Nelson

Nelson says Vermont firefighters are mourning the loss of the  19 men, while simultaneously preparing to head into danger if needed.

“We do have a chance of having a crew get sent out there.,” says Nelson.

Vermont crews have helped out with wildfires in other states in the past. He says crews in Vermont are following weather patterns closely and are ready to travel if help is needed.

“We also want to look at what’s happening nationally with fire, so we can maybe try to anticipate where the need is going to be to help support the fires out west,” Nelson says.

Nelson remembers forming bonds with many of the young men very quickly.

“You build these interpersonal relationships because of the sheer fact of the danger of what we do,” he says.

Nelson says it’s been difficult for him to think about how young many of the Hotshots were

“I just think of the families they either left behind or could have had. It’s just a real sad moment for the Forest Service.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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