Brian Fennessy Red Helmet center

Brian Fennessy
Red Helmet center

It was announced last week that Brian “Buster” Fennessy, has been promoted to Fire Chief of the San Diego City Fire Department.
Brian has a long history with Hotshot crews including assignments with the Oak Grove Crew and Chilao Hotshots.
1978 – YACC/Oak Grove HS (went on numerous assignments)
1979 – Angeles Crest E-10
1980/81 – Chilao Hotshots
1982/83 – Arroyo Grande Helishots
1984-86 – Kern Valley Hotshot Foreman
1987-88 – Apple Valley Helishot Foreman
1989-90 – Apple Valley Crew Superintendent
Was hired by City of San Diego at end of 1990 fire season.
Recently, Larry Boggs wrote Brian with congratulations and Brian wrote back the following that pretty much spells out the comradery that all Hotshots feel. His words are below.
Hey Larry……thanks for the congrats!!!
I had a good chuckle when I opened up the e-mail………you just described me….old broken down hotshot!!!
One of the foremen (now I guess they are called captains) that worked for me when I was a superintendent sent the attached photo (1989) after he received word of my appointment. It reminded me of how much I loved the work and most of all, the brotherhood that quite honestly is talked a lot about in our profession, but in my experience, doesn’t exist to the level it does within the current and/or former hotshot or smokejumper community.
We have something special that other than perhaps those within the military special operations community; enjoy. The fact that former hotshots stay in touch as they do throughout their lives and even though haven’t seen or spoken in years, is pretty amazing. Even former hotshots that haven’t worked together or are from different generations share a unique bond. I try to hire as many hotshots as possible on this job as I know that if they have spent more than a couple years on a hotshot crew, they likely understand the team aspect and work ethic and I too have benefited.

Believe it or not, I continue to wear my 12 inch top Whites (smokejumper) boots everyday as my work boot. People ask all the time why and I tell them that quite honestly that they are the most comfortable boot I own. Also a reminder everyday of where I’ve come from and to not lose sight of those hotshots that came before and after us. Also, they last a lot longer now that I walk on mostly carpet!!!
Thanks for all you do to keep the former hotshot community together Larry……it means a lot to me and I’m sure the others that are proud to have thrown dirt while serving on hotshot crews.
Stay in touch brother!
Brian (aka Buster)
Brian Fennessy

I don’t know if you remember me? My name is John W. (Bill) Alexander. Tony Morton and I had joined the OGHS in 67. You made me ‘Lead Hook’ on that years crew and trained as a crew truck driver in that old Ford crew truck.
I have not associated with anybody in that years crew other than Tony, which I had lost contact for maybe 10 years, then just recently reconnected. He informed me about the OGHS Blog and said something about a past reunion, (which he didn’t attend). I looked it up and found it, then found your contact email address and thought I ought to drop you a line. I had always thought about you, where you are or even if your still kicking? I truly loved that work and it helped me understand the meaning of being a ‘Team’.
Now for a little history on my career: I had stayed for ‘winter work’ and was set to go to Lassen Jr. College. You had helped me with a job application and was accepted to ‘Smoke Jumper School’, which I was going to pick McCall, ID, (since I grew up in Idaho) for the following season. I wanted to be in associated in ‘Forestry’, but I never made any of those goals. It all went up in smoke when the ‘Draft’ came after me. At that time it was not the lottery system.
Tony and I ended up joining the Marine Corp. He didn’t go in right away after signing like I did. After training I spent 13 months in the Vietnam bush, as a radio operator, with a combat Battalion Landing Team, 2/26, 9th MAB, operating in many search and destroy missions, in what they called the ‘I-Corp’ areas, that stretched from the DMZ, south to Hoi An. Tony ended up in Cam Ranh Bay as a plumber. For me, you should know that your training and experience as a Hotshot gave me the physical and mental strength which put me at the top of my ‘Series’ through boot camp and ITR.
I made it back without a physical scratch, but survived some harrowing combat experiences and close calls. I did loose half my hearing though, and stomping through all that bush, I was over exposed to ‘Agent Orange’ and have been fighting pulmonary disease for many years. Keeping physically active all these years must have helped, or I would probably be under by now?
After returning from Nam and getting out of the Marine Corp., I enrolled in Valley Jr. College, which lasted less than a few months. The anti-war movement was rampant and reached into the professor’s instructions. Being a vet, I was hiding, and afraid of being discovered. All I wanted was to continue my education, but I became terribly depressed and near suicidal. Back then there was no help for vets and PTS was not a diagnosed issue. I didn’t fit back in society! I know being brought up in a religious family helped and after finding a job in Meridian, ID, I dropped out of college and moved out hell hole. It was working with a commercial/industrial fire protection company, which covered work throughout the northwestern states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah). After completing 5 years of apprenticeship training, which included correspondent courses from Penn State University, I was officially ‘turned out’ as a Fitter, then Fitter Foreman running jobs. Eventually I worked my way into management, design, (which included hydraulic calculations), and estimating, etc. Eventually I left and started my own company and after years of that, my health dropped to a point where I had to get out of the 24/7 contracting rat race. I sold the business (which is basically selling your workers, used tools, trucks, material inventory, and your clientele), and moved into the other side of the fence, which was fire code enforcement, as an ‘AHJ’ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) in Fire Department-Fire Prevention Bureaus, interpreting, reviewing, permitting, inspecting, testing and enforcing the (adopted) fire codes. This basically involved working with architects, utility, mechanical, and fire protection contractors, along with public business’s, meeting the minimum Fire-Life-Safety requirements. Doing this eventually brought me back to California (where the money was). My first in California was with the Redondo Beach Fire Department-Fire Prevention Bureau, and my last was with the Huntington Beach Fire Department-Fire Prevention Bureau, which is where I worked till I finally called it quits and retired and moved back north.
We have 3 children and 13 grandchildren now. My wife and I live in Star Valley Ranch, WY, a township outside of Thayne. We are tucked in a 30 mile valley called ‘Star Valley’, between the Teton and Bridger National Forests. Our home is 7,200 feet above sea level. We are 50 miles from the old tourist traps of Jackson Hole and Teton Village, and a 100 from the south entrance to Yellowstone Park. If you ever want to get out of the ‘rat race’, you are very welcome to visit and stay, anytime. We have plenty of accommodations in our home.

I’m sure your retired now and taking life easy somewhere. I think Tony (above) retired with CDF when he was in his mid-50’s? I gave up when I was 63. I hope your still blessed with health and your happy? Drop me a line, for I’m interested in knowing how you’re doing and how your life ended up?

Here is a current picture of my wife and I:

John (Bill) Alexander

What are you doing these days. Drop us a note so we can let everyone know.

We here on the Oak Grove Hotshot web site are wondering what crew members are doing these days. Well Chuck Grennell, has been painting and has submitted his beautiful watercolor below. If you have something your proud of and want to show up, let us know and we would be happy to post it.

cow camp cabin 008

I’ve been working on this watercolor, Cowboy Cabin Near Highlands Lake, for a while; I recently finished it. This painting is based on a photograph that I took of a cabin near the top of Ebbetts Pass off of State Route 4, in Alpine County. This is a transparent watercolor on a half sheet of 300 pound Arches Aquarelle paper; it measures 22.5” X 15.25”. Chuck Grennell


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Wayne Crowder said,

    Just want to say, I never would have imagined how much I enjoyed this reunion! At first I had reservations; what would it be like trying to reconnect with guys some of whom I hadn’t had contact with for over 45 years? Well, it was just like I saw them a few months ago. The camaraderie really runs deep among these folks. We all spent most of the time just enjoying each other’s company. Shit, I hadn’t stayed up until midnight B.S.ing since I can’t remember when.

    What I was really surprised about was how many LE retirees showed up. Of course, most of us started out in fire but had gone over to the dark side decades ago. We were still as welcome as the fire dogs who never saw the light. I think they even accepted Jumpin’ Jack Gregory!

    The reunion was well worth the three days I spent riding my Harley through rain ans snow (yes, SNOW!) to get there and I will do it again should in an instant if another one is planned.

    Thanks Steve and everyone else involved in the planning. Let me know if I can assist in any future such events, please!

    Wayne Crowder
    Oak Grove Hotshots 1967, 1968, 1970

  2. 2

    Michael Gracy said,

    Buster! You remember me? Mike Gracy? I worked on Mt. Waterman and hired you on to cut some lumber for us. You are the clown that ended up getting me onto the Chilao Hot Shots! And if memory serves, you still owe me $20.00!! I won’t go into what for here, but email me, we’ll talk! blitzerco@pacbell.net

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