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Women in combat is new, women as firefighters old

PHOENIX — Dozens of women will be training at the Arizona Wildfire Academy next week in Prescott while others are training in the Valley this weekend to become firefighters.

Erin Phelps, a firefighter and hotshot team member with the Coconino National Forest in Flagstaff, started out with the Pleasant Valley Hotshots on the Tonto National Forest, moved on to the Mormon Lake crew and then got a permanent job with the Flagstaff Hotshots. She spent a grand total of five years as a hotshot and that is the most demanding job in the wildfire world.

“For me it was always about the challenge. I’ve always been competitive and like pushing myself physically. I started working on an engine crew and saw a hotshot crew working in remote and rugged country in Idaho. I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’ The next year I applied for being on a hotshot crew and never looked back.”

Phelps said you’re with the same people for six months on end in remote places, without much in the way of contact with the outside world. But that comes with being part of a tight-knit group that really becomes a second family.

“They were like big brothers watching out for a little sister.”

Phelps said her crewmates knew she was one of them, but she encountered other crews or people who had no idea that she was a hotshot and that she was sometimes discounted until they worked with her.

“There’s still a bit of a stigma for women to get past,” she said.