On June 30, 2013 Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19 members of Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots. The fire, which ended up burning 8400 acres, was the deadliest U.S. wildfire since the 1991 East Bay Hills fire (which killed 25 people), and the deadliest wildland fire for U.S. firefighters since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire (which killed 29). It was also the most fatal incident of any kind involving U.S. firefighters since the September 11 attacks (which killed 343), the sixth-deadliest American firefighter disaster overall and the deadliest wildfire ever in Arizona.
Last year, Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave paid great tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The film (based upon the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn) stars Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Miles Teller. Brolin plays Hotshot crew leader Eric Marsh; Connelly plays his real-life wife Amanda. And Teller plays a Hotshot named Brendan McDonough.
All reports indicate that the Only the Brave is pretty much faithful to real life, from the formation of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to their ultimate demise. The film’s also faithful to the life of Brendan McDonough, the only Granite Mountain Hotshot to survive that fateful day on Yarnell Hill.
And it was some life. See, before McDonough was a Hotshot, he was a junkie, and a thief. He was also an ex-con with a felony record that precluded him from getting even the most menial of jobs. He also had a newborn daughter whose mother wanted nothing to do with him.
McDonough’s story might not be the first tale that springs to mind for a movie about firefighters, especially for a crackerjack crew like the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Anyone in recovery however would see the parallels between McDonough’s battling addiction and the Hotshots battling wildfires.
Okay, so fighting substance abuse might not take the same kind of courage as fighting raging forest fires. But it does take courage nonetheless. Heck, just walking into the Hotshots HQ and asking for a place on the crew took a tremendous amount of courage. Thankfully Marsh knows this. How? Because the chief Hotshot had fought his own battle with addiction.
So McDonough gets a chance. And like many a recovering man who’s been blessed with a second chance, he gives it everything he’s got. And then some. By the end of the movie McDonough proves himself worthy of the opportunity Marsh had granted him.
Five years later, McDonough’s courageous recovery story isn’t over. In addition to a testament to the Granite Mountain Hotshots entitled My Lost Brothers (retitled Granite Mountain for the movie), and an onslaught of tributary Op-Eds and speaking engagements, McDonough has found another way to honor his fallen comrades. It’s called Holdfast Recovery, and its goal is to do for other addicts what the Granite Mountain Hotshots did for him.
“Look what [the Hotshots] gave, for others,” McDonough told AZ Central. “They gave it all. And I want to honor that by helping other people with what they’re going through.”
We at the Schnellenberger Family Foundation would like to laud the Granite Mountain Hotshots for their courage and for their sacrifice. And we’d like to applaud the filmmakers of Only the Brave for honoring their legacy. We’d also like to laud Hotshot chief Eric Marsh for showing McDonough there’s a way out of addiction. And we’d like to applaud McDonough for keeping the late chief’s legacy alive.