Survivor of deadly Arizona wildfire takes Idaho job

Credit: Troy Colson/KTVB

Brendan McDonough

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by Karen Zatkulak

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KTVB.COM

Posted on February 6, 2014 at 11:15 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 7 at 8:38 AM

BOISE -- The lone survivor of a wildfire that killed 19 people in Arizona is now working in Boise.

A former member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots has accepted a job with the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Brendan McDonough says he wants to help those struggling with a loss of life in the line of fire.

McDonough tells us the Wildland Firefighter Foundation reached out to him after the devastating loss.

He was planning to return to his job as a firefighter this summer, but decided this opportunity would help him heal, and allow him to help others do the same.

The faces of the 19 men killed while fighting an Arizona wildfire hang on the wall when you walk in to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation in Boise.

They're men Brendan McDonough knew well, his friends, his crew, the people he fought fires with for three years.

On Thursday, McDonough walked us through the hall pointing out the pictures of those he knew well.

"Every single one of them is smiling, laughing, having fun," said McDonough.

McDonough calls them his brothers.

He says it's the family he lost on June 30, 2013, when a wildfire in Yarnell spread quickly, killing every member of the Granite Hotshot Crew, except him.

"It's been real tough, there are still things that play off in my head that I remember," said McDonough.

McDonough has spent the last seven months dealing with the tragedy, but through the process there was one organization that helped him the most, the Wildland Firefighters Foundation.

"I was able to really let a lot of things go that I couldn't tell other people, I was able to open up and feel happy," said McDonough.

He met the director of foundation at a memorial service in Prescott, Arizona.

He was impressed by their support and surprised by the statue they brought all the way from Boise to show those grieving that a foundation a thousand miles away cared.

Since then, McDonough realized it was a foundation he wanted to be a part of.

"It gives me a way to give back, and I'm really lucky to be here and continue to give back to the community like others have given to me," said McDonough.

McDonough says he's ready to share experience with the families and the firefighters facing similar tragedies.

With his fallen crew smiling down, pushing him to look past what was lost, and help others across the country do the same.

"To understand that it's OK to grieve, but some day it's fine to move on, that's what they would want," said McDonough.

McDonough will be splitting his time between Boise and Prescott, where his two-year-old daughter lives.

He started with the Wildland Firefighter Foundation about a month ago, working in public relations.

He will help firefighters dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, and will also help victims' families.

The foundation tells us 37 wildland firefighters lost their lives last year alone.

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