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Sharper Point: Still struggling to honor Granite Mountain 19, five years later

A storefront along Whiskey Row honors the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots on the first anniversary of their deaths, Monday, June 30, 2014, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A few years ago, my former college roommate and I went hiking in Sequoia National Forest in California. Sequoia is where Mount Whitney is located, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

We didn’t hike Whitney, but we did hike up the mountain next door.

Just about the time I was starting to feel pretty good about my fitness level, we were passed by a group of wildland firefighters who were doing some training.

Not only were they doing almost double our speed of ascent, they were carrying chainsaws, shovels and other heavy tools that we weren’t. And we saw them again, barely a half-hour later, on their way back down — having already achieved the summit.

I gained a lot of respect for wildland firefighters that day. A few years later, I would attend a journalist firefighting academy where I learned even more.

Not only are wildland firefighters incredibly fit, they are incredibly fearless.

When I use the word fearless, I don’t mean that they possess zero fear. I mean that they fear — but less than you and I do.

A healthy dose of fear helps firefighters do their job. To ignore fear would be to not pay attention to the things that can hamper them from doing their job. But the “less” part of their brand of fearless makes it possible to face what they have to face.

How else could you charge into an area where the possibility of retreat from a 2000 degree, unpredictable force of nature is not guaranteed?

Such was the situation the fearless Granite Mountain Hotshots faced while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013.

I was in the comfort of my home office on that Sunday, five years ago, preparing my radio morning show, when I learned of the loss of those 19 men.

It shook me like few other things ever have — and I say that with more than two decades in the news media and having reported from the Iraq War.

I spoke with Governor Jan Brewer on the radio the next day. As I did, I struggled with how to wrap my head around the tragedy of losing that many heroes at one time. But I also struggled with what to say in order to properly commemorate the Granite Mountain 19.

Five years later, I still haven’t found those words.