Retired Smokejumper Says Firefighter Training Must Change After Yarnell Hill Tragedy

Jan 2, 2014

Wayne Williams started fighting wildfires in 1974, and became a smokejumper in 1977.

Retired Missoula smokejumper Wayne Williams
Credit Sally Mauk

Over his 40 year career, the now-retired Missoula smokejumper was mentored by - and himself mentored - many other wildland firefighters.

Williams was part of the team that recovered the bodies of 14 firefighters who died fighting the South Canyon fire on Storm King mountain in Colorado in 1994. That incident prompted several changes in firefighting safety protocols and strategy.

"The last thing I would want is for a firefighter to die defending my house."

This past summer's tragic deaths of 19 hotshots in the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona - almost an entire crew - again shocked the firefighting community, and has many, including Williams, re-evaluating this country's firefighting training and methods.

In this feature interview, Williams talks with News Director Sally Mauk about what he thinks needs to change. Williams says he first learned of the Yarnell Hill tragedy when he received a text from a friend.