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Only the Brave: The True Story

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Released on October 14, 2017, Only the Brave showcases the life of Brendan McDonough and the real life tragedy of the Yarnell Hill fire. Alongside 19 other brave men, Brendan risked his life fighting fires in Prescott, Arizona, in an elite force named the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Brendan had a rough life, smoking marijuana and skipping school as a skater kid in Southern California. Growing up, his family life was a mess. He had no father, and his family was having economic difficulties. Brendan moved with his mother to Prescott, where his drug addiction worsened. At age 14, Brendan’s mother signed him up for a program for kid’s who might want to become firefighters, and Brendan loved the idea of brotherhood, and tried for the hotshot team years later. However, getting into the Granite Mountain Hotshots wasn’t easy at all.

Brendan struggled to earn money, selling drugs to support himself. At 19, just before he graduated high school, he learned he was going to be a father. He did everything he could to prepare for fatherhood, despite getting arrested for stealing and continuing to smoke. Brendan tried to get into a hotshot crew, which is a group of 20, type 1 handcrew firefighters who are ready to fight fire at any requested time. He attempted to join the Granite Mountain Hotshots the day they had an opening. Crew leader Eric Marsh took his chances on this troubled youth, and gave Brendan the chance to become one of the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The Yarnell Hill fire started on June 28, 2013, when a lightning storm ignited a fire in the deserts of Phoenix, Arizona. The hotshots made a line of fire to go against the fire, only to have the line be watered down by a plane. Worried about time, Marsh, the leader of the crew, assigned Brendan the role of being lookout. Brendan was separated from his team to watch the fire from a distance and report every detail to Marsh. However, the fire grew rapidly. Within 2 days, the fire has burned nearly 8,000 acres, destroying homes and building without mercy. The fire moved at about 22 feet per second, which is about 15 miles per hour. Struggling, Brendan managed to escape the fire from his location, but the rest of the crew were still up in the mountains, making their best attempt to fight the fire. Unfortunately for the hotshots, they made their best attempts to survive before perishing on June 30, 2013.

“Just put it to your temple and get it over with. Go be with your friends. Best thing for everyone.” A year after the incident, McDonough came close to ending his own life. He was overwhelmed with PTSD and guilt that he was the only survivor. Before he pulled the trigger, however, the thought of his family passed through his mind. Not wanting to give his daughter the childhood he had, he ejected the bullet and tossed the gun into the backseat of his truck. This was the beginning of his long journey of therapy.

Today, the Granite Mountain Hotshots are well known in  Prescott for their service and all the risks they took to protect their people. They were certified as an elite “Type 1” crew of hotshots. Today, Brendan does all he can to raise money for wildland firefighting. He gives speeches in public, and has attended all 19 funerals for his fallen companions. Brendan McDonough gives everyone a reminder to stay strong, and know there is a better life waiting for everyone.

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The student news site of Kraemer Middle School
Only the Brave: The True Story