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Local firefighters react to Arizona deaths

Valrico, Florida - As the deadly wildfire in Arizona continues to burn, the thoughts of local forest rangers are with their fallen comrades and their families.

"It's a pretty big shock to us," says Forest Ranger Tommy Price. "Firefighters across the country are like family."

Wildland firefighters at the Valrico Forest Service station know their's is a dangerous job, and they say the 19 deaths in Arizona have them thinking about their own safety and training.

See also: 19 firefighters killed battling fast-moving fire in Arizona

It's too soon to say what went wrong in Arizona, but at least some of the firefighters there deployed their fire shelters- small, silver cocoons designed to reflect radiant heat and entrap breathable air. The $600 device is mandatory equipment for anyone working a wildfire.

Senior Forest Ranger Abraham Philipson gave 10 News a demonstration using a green training version of a shelter. Ideally, a firefighter is inside and on the ground in 25 seconds. Firefighters even train with fans blowing, so they get used to deploying the shelter in strong winds.

The shelter is a last resort if a firefighter is entrapped by flames. And firefighters have survived in them as a line of fire passes over. 

"The important thing is not to get out of the shelter until the all-clear is given," says Philipson, who adds that gases and super-heated air can collapse a firefighter's lungs.

But as we've seen in Arizona, the shelters are no guarantee of survival, and it's a piece of equipment firefighters hope they never have to use.

Still, even with the dangers so clear, these local firefighters say they're prepared to face the flames. Price says the need to serve the public is a driving force. 

"It's a good feeling knowing you saved somebody's life, or someone's house or somebody's property," he says. "At the end of the day that's why we do it."

Follow 10 News Reporter KathrynBursch on twitter @Kathryn Bursch


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