My name is Fred Schoeffler, and I’ve lived in AZ since 1955, most of my life. I recently purchased 14+ acres of property along Boulder Springs Trail that adjoins the Helms Ranch (Parcel No. 203-05-003). I too live in a very small, unincorporated town. I plan on establishing an informal wildland fire lessons learned center under the name of the Project 10 & 18 United LLC (P10&18U). We are committed to our personal relationships with Jesus Christ, as a courageously Christian-based, non-political small group of involved citizens, current and former WFs and FFs seeking to be good neighbors and hopefully, future partners.
It's come to my attention through a Yavapai County Public Records Request that there is a small group of anxious Yarnell and Yavapai County residents that were included in an email thread that was about me and my plans for my property. In a word, what I discovered is that you all were being given a lot of disinformation, misinformation, and downright false information. This document is in response to all that. However, a back story is in order at this point. Growing up my Father often told stories of his non-combat World War II tour-of-duty at the Pensacola, FL Naval Base as a U.S. Navy Aviation Machinist Mate. He also had a collateral duty as a machine gunner in a torpedo dive bomber. While they worked on aircraft, the pilots were training to dive bomb, they listened to them screaming on the radio about their inability to pull out of their dives, and they were killed when they crashed and burned. The Naval Base Commander discovered the problem was that the horizontal stabilizer cables had been sewn through and all bound up while attaching the canvas skin to the aircraft frame. He called the Naval Commanders in Washington, D.C. (DC) and told them he discovered the problem plaguing his pilots, and that he was going to ground the dive bomber squadron. Fairly simple solution, ey.
The D.C. Naval Commanders felt otherwise and strongly disagreed . They told the Base commander to keep flying and practicing dive bombing. My Father said that the Base Commander went out that night with a K-Bar knife and slashed through the horizontal stabilizers of all the dive bombers. Thinking of his men, he literally saved scores of those Navy pilot’s lives by that single bold, moral action. In response, the Navy court-martialed the Base Commander. Because of that man’s decision and actions, he was my hero while growing up and to this day. He inspired me to be the man I am today with a strong interest in leadership and human factors. I carried that moral ethic on as a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Wildland Firefighter (WF), hired in 1972 as a beginning-level GS-03 Forestry Aid because I spoke Navajo, learned while attending Northern Arizona University and herding sheep for a Medicine Man near Cow Springs. The District Fire Management Officer tasked me with being a Crew Liaison Officer for two Navajo Crews from Rock Point, while on stand-by at Camp Clover in Williams, AZ. Back then only a few of these guys spoke English, with a few younger college kids able to do so.
For the next 34 years, I was a Forestry Aid, then a Lead Forestry Technician, and then finally a supervisory Forestry Technician, and spent the following 28 years (1981-2007) as the Payson Hot Shot (HS) Crew Superintendent. I also worked a few months on the Oak Grove HS (1973), where we were required to learned the Fire Orders, Watch Outs, Downhill Checklist, and the Common Denominators of Fatal and Near-Fatal Fires by heart (spelling, punctuation, and grammar). We had no Safety Zones in the Fire Orders, only Escape Routes; and only had 13 Watch Outs at the time. I carried on this tradition throughout my career as do almost all HS Crews. I also spent brief temporary details on the Pleasant Valley HS (1980) and the Santa Fe HS (1999) as the Acting HS Supt. It was widely held, that being a HS Supt. was the best job in the USFS. I agreed and why I remained in that coveted position.
During that time, I was involved with or worked on several fatality wildfires where aircraft, helicopters, vehicles, trees, rocks, burnovers, fire shelter deployments, entrapments, and fatalities occurred. Most of them were difficult to deal with, and at times, some were very grim. I have never deployed a fire shelter nor had any fatalities on any Crew I supervised, nor has anyone who ever worked for me, when they went on to become higher ranking wildland fire supervisors and managers themselves. It is widely held that wildland firefighting is inherently dangerous. The P10&18U LLC will promote safe wildland firefighting by providing useful learning, helping to reveal the complexity and risk in the wildland fire environment. We believe in and utilize the proven High Reliability Organizing (HRO) concept to promote firm adherence to the tried-and-trued Basic Wildland Firefighting Rules, Guidelines (The 10 & 18), and Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES), created in 1990 after the fatal Dude Fire near Payson. Many of us took an “oath of office” for our positions As such, we affirmed or swore that we will support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Arizona, and that, we will faithfully discharge our duties, to the best of our ability, as WFs and FFs. It’s been an honor and privilege to do that for most of us WFs and FFs. You have to wonder about others at times Our Project 10 & 18 United LLC strives to be a valuable resource for Wildland Firefighters (WFs) and Firefighters (FFs) engaged in wildland firefighting, who want to learn from both the positive and negative experiences of others. To offer future prospects the value of learning from highly experienced WFs and FFs to provide the next generation with well-learned leadership lessons and skills, wildland fire weather and fire behavior, safe practices, proper and truthful accident investigations, and other aspects of wildland fire management, inspiring younger WFs and FFs to excel in this inherently dangerous, noble, and rewarding vocation. At times, it’s merely “doing the difficult right thing.”
We wholly endorse gaining wisdom from our sometimes tragic history for WFs and FFs because these current and future leaders are the linchpins in a vital role toward learning “complete” lessons, something lost for many years. We support making their voices heard. Once again, we are committed to our personal relationships with Jesus Christ as a courageously Christian-based, non-political small group of concerned citizens, current and former WFs and FFs, seeking to be good neighbors and future partners. We are deeply concerned that WFs and FFs are repeatedly getting injured and killed for the same reasons due to “incomplete” lessons learned. Unfortunately, this is the result of less-than-forthright , questionable Serious Accident Investigation Teams (SAIT) that first establish conclusions, and then support them with alleged relevant “facts.” The reports (SAIR) touted as “factual” are anything but that. We embrace the virtues of honor, courage, honesty, and duty - and above all - the truth. And we strive to do our part to seek the truth about the Yarnell Hill (YH) Fire and the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots (GMHS) in order to reduce the number of inevitable wildland fire mishaps due to incomplete lessons learned from shoddy investigations. This was an epic event that shook WFs and FFs and everyone else that was involved to the core.
In the long run, in addition to the lessons learned entity, God Willing, we seek Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant access to the GMHS Deployment Site for those truly disadvantaged by the arduous, non-ADA compliant AZ State Park GMHS Memorial Trail by affiliating with, among others, AZ State Parks, AZ State Lands, AZ Department of Forestry and Fire Management, and hopefully, the GMHS Memorial Partnership. Some of you have sought this from the beginning. I have lived in the small, unincorporated community of Pine, AZ since 1978. There are no stop lights, no streetlights, and no sidewalks. And I love it there for those reasons, and so do most of the other long-time residents. And we want to keep it that way. Lately, real estate developers and investors are invading AZ like locusts, buying property hand-over-fist, and driving up real estate prices. So, I truly understand the community of Yarnell’s distrust of newcomers like me into their private lifestyles, wanting to keep it as such as much as reasonably possible.
Please trust me, I’m on your side. Thank you for your time and attention.
Fred J. Schoeffler (Project 10 & 18 United LLC Manager)