It seems U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana wasn’t too happy with the efforts of the Augusta Hot Shots, firefighters who had come to battle the wildfires that were consuming a good portion of his state. Last Sunday while waiting at an airport he got into an “altercation” with the firefighters in which he accused them of doing a poor job of fighting the 92,000-acre blaze:
Rosenthal’s original report of the incident recounted how Burns pointed to a member of the Augusta Hot Shots crew across the airport waiting area and telling her:
“See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.”
Rosenthal wrote in both versions: “I offered to the senator that our firefighters make around $8-$12 per hour and time-and-a-half for overtime. He seemed a little surprised that it wasn’t higher.”
Burns was surprised enough that he later released an apology for being such an asshat:
“In retrospect, I wish I had chosen my words more carefully,” Burns said in a prepared statement. “My criticism of the way in which the fire was handled should not have been directed at those who were working hard to put it out. Without a doubt firefighters do the hard, tough job of battling one of Mother Nature’s toughest beasts. I have nothing but admiration for them and the work they do.
“My frustration came from meeting with landowners who were critical of the way the fire was handled. Whatever the reason, I should have simply thanked those who worked hard to put out the fire.
“I have since addressed my concerns to the proper officials about the way in which fires are handled. Please accept my apology for any hard feelings that my comments may have caused. I have the utmost respect for the job firefighters have done in Montana.”
Don’t be surprised, Senator, if the next time your state is on fire the members of the Augusta Hotshots decide not to bother coming to help. It’s a long way to travel for $8 to $12 an hour plus a major helping of lack-of-gratitude for the effort.