Based on a true story about an elite group of firefighters called the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the film “Only the Brave” portrays the physical and emotional aspects of wildland firefighting — from the tactics of fighting fire with fire to the toll it takes on the crews’ families.
“I thought everything was pretty realistic down to when the crew boss was packing up his pack, he had the correct Incident Response Pocket Guide,” said Terri Brown, deputy fire staff officer for the Umpqua National Forest. “They did a very good job.”
Both the firefighting crews in the film and in the Umpqua National Forest often attack wildfires head-on with controlled burnouts, intentionally burning the ground along the fire line so when the fire reaches the area there are no fuels left to burn.
“They have to have a little bit of drama in there and special effects,” Brown said. “I’ve never seen trees that fall over a ledge and explode, but maybe that happens, I don’t know,” she laughed.
She said based on her own experience, the movie is about 98 percent accurate, and even the scenes with crew members pulling pranks on each other and dancing in the van depict reality.
“People like to make things light when they can but they’re serious when they need to be,” she said.
Though she hasn’t heard a hotshot crew member verbally abuse someone from a type two crew, she said there is a lot of competition, and hot shots tend to act like they’re above the work type two crews do.
“Hotshot crews just don’t mop up, and if they are assigned that, they drag their feet,” Brown said. “I’ve had them on my division where you basically just want to get rid of hotshot crews because they don’t do what they think is beneath them.”
Brown, 50, has been fighting fires since she was 18 and has been part of engine crews, hand crews, hotshot teams, incident management teams and just about every type of firefighting crew on the ground.
The film also accurately depicted the way a wildfire can shift suddenly and spread faster than a highly-trained firefighter can run. Brown has had to sprint out of wildfires’ paths over the course of her career.
The movie focused on all-male hotshots, but Brown said women firefighters like herself go through the same experiences and struggles that come with a lifestyle built around wildfires. She said she and her female coworker are both divorced.
“Those are the reasons why we’re divorced, it was hard on those wives, just like it was hard on our spouses,” she said, referring to the wives in the movie. “You never know when a fire bell’s going to go off and you have to go to Montana. Basically, from the month of May to mid-October you don’t have a life.”
But like the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, Brown said she loves the job and it’s worth the sacrifices.
“You either love it or you hate it, and for the people who love it that’s why we’re still doing it 30 years later,” Brown said. “It gets in your blood. You’re outdoors doing something to serve your country and you get to go many different places.”