What Do Grassroots Wildland Firefighters Mean to the Fire Community?

Published 2023-05-29

In the fire community, Grassroots efforts hold a special place as one of the major driving forces behind supporting and advocating for the women and men that protect lives, communities, and landscapes. It’s a movement where individuals, organizations, and communities come together, driven by passion and a deep sense of responsibility. These initiatives encompass a bottom-up approach, with locals taking ownership of fire prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. It has made space to ask questions that require actionable answers.

Through collaboration and open communication, Grassroots efforts foster strong relationships between fire professionals, land management agencies, wildland fire community members, and legislative staff. Together, we have been able to influence, advocate, and educate for needed reforms that will play a part in creating 21st-century solutions for 21st-century problems. These initiatives empower communities to take proactive measures, ensuring they are well-prepared to face the ever-changing fire climate. By amplifying local voices and concerns, they ensure that decisions at higher levels of governance reflect the needs and realities of the communities they serve. The power of Grassroots lies in its ability to unite people, nurture resilience, and safeguard lives and landscapes for generations to come.

Grassroots can mean many different things to different people, but as a community, together, we can make a difference.

So, what does Grassroots mean to you? We’ve asked this question to three influential narrators within the fire community; Bethany Hannah, Ben McLane, and Lucas Mayfield. Below are their responses.


Bethany Hannah is the Executive Director of The American Wildfire Experience, founder of The Smokey Generation, and passionate supporter of the wildland fire community. She has an extensive nonprofit background and regularly provides consulting services to emerging and growing nonprofit organizations and small businesses. Grassroots solicited her expertise to work through organizational strategies related to nonprofit structure and governance. Bethany is also a proud MYSTERY RANCH Ambassador.

What does Grassroots mean to the fire community?

When I think about Grassroots, I think about how important it is for all of us to step back and ask ourselves, “Is there another way we should be doing this?” This is what Grassroots is doing: it has made space to ask good questions that require actionable answers, engaged in dialogue around new and different approaches, and has demanded recognition that the fire community is worthy of continued support. What does this mean to the fire community? It means that the question of whether or not there is a different way of doing things is a question that we are asking at all levels of government – and that will ultimately result in a change in how we operate in the fire environment (which is the only way we will be able to safely and effectively adapt to wildfire within the context of our rapidly changing climate).

How can MYSTERY RANCH continue to be an advocate for the wildland workforce?

Environmental historian, William Cronon, says, “Narratives remain our chief moral compass in the world. Because we use them to motivate and explain our actions, the stories we tell change the way we act in the world.” We absolutely have to tell the story of fire–its political, social, and environmental benefits and impacts–and the most apt narrators of that story are wildland fire practitioners. MYSTERY RANCH plays an integral part in sharing the stories of the wildland fire community through the Backbone Series, by supporting AWE’s Wildland Fire Digital Storytelling Micro-grants, and by promoting the fire community on social media; it provides a platform and a resource and helps bookend the narratives. And by doing that, it helps change the way we act in our communities and helps accelerate solutions to some of the most critical challenges the fire community faces today. Our stories are important and MYSTERY RANCH shines a light on them every day; that type of continued advocacy is invaluable.

One objective of Grassroots is to provide a platform for advocacy and self-advocacy. How can MYSTERY RANCH act as a force multiplier in these efforts?

I’m a big proponent of empowering others – deliberately, thoughtfully, and purposefully empowering others. Self-advocacy and self-reliance are very similar in that they walk hand-in-hand with empowerment. Critically, I believe that when people feel empowered, they gain the confidence necessary to advocate for themselves and others. MYSTERY RANCH can act as a force multiplier in these efforts by showing the fire community what a badass, worthy, and consequential group of people they are. Empowering the wildland fire community by putting a mirror up and reflecting back their significance and worth will go a long way towards encouraging people to advocate for themselves and for the community as a whole.


Ben currently supervises a federal hand crew in the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his wife and two dogs. Previously, he was a senior firefighter for a hotshot crew in Northern California. He has been involved with Grassroots since 2020 doing anything he can to support the group’s effort, but most recently as chair of the Grassroots Culture Committee.

What does Grassroots mean to the fire community?

In a word, Hope. For decades, the fire community has toiled in quiet desperation. We’ve watched our friends leave, driven out by the many unspoken and unrecognized sacrifices. With clenched jaws and teary eyes, we’ve stood resolute, and heartbroken as our loved ones experience the pain of being linked to a member of the federal fire workforce. In spite of that, we show up. Every time, year after year, driven forward by a call to service and a deep understanding of the answer to the question, “If not me, then who?” Grassroots is not just a group of people that care, they are a group of people that KNOW. That authenticity cannot be denied, and it has produced loyalty among us. The kind that can’t be achieved from words alone, but by genuine belief in the motivations of those involved. It has given us hope, for the first time in awhile. For a group so used to doing more with less, a little hope to us is worth its weight in gold.

How can MYSTERY RANCH continue to be an advocate for the wildland workforce?

MYSTERY RANCH has gone above and beyond in telling the story of the wildland firefighter. I hope that continues. One of the challenges of this job is being relied on as a highly trained and skilled professional during a wildland fire emergency, but not feeling recognized at home in the same category of professional as those that we respond with. I am aware of statements made in the past, but I can assure you that no member of the public that I have ever come to the aid of during a wildfire considered me “unskilled labor.” In both the quality of the products that we use and the messaging from MYSTERY RANCH that we see, it is clear that the company recognizes us and cares about us. I believe that pattern will continue, and I hope that the opportunity for it to continue in political advocacy forums will be taken advantage of whenever possible.

One objective of Grassroots is to provide a platform for advocacy and self-advocacy. How can MYSTERY RANCH act as a force multiplier in these efforts?

One of the pathways to success that seems more and more realistic is for our national wildfire response system to be considered by those positions of political influence in the same or similar category as our nation’s military. I believe that MYSTERY RANCH can help provide the platform to justify that comparison, as a company that serves both responder communities with equal passion and care. One of the critical points of momentum that have aided the movement of Grassroots is the lens that members of the media have helped provide. This lens shows members of the public what is happening in the lives of wildland firefighters. It helps them see the sacrifices made by us and our loved ones.

MYSTERY RANCH has a powerful social media presence, political connections, and respect in the industry. MYSTERY RANCH shines a spotlight on what matters. I am proud to wear MYSTERY RANCH gear on the fire line, because it takes care of me and my people. I hope MYSTERY RANCH is proud of me, and the many like me who feel the same. I hope MYSTERY RANCH will continue to share that pride with the world and endeavor to tell our story using the tools and relationships that the company has to anyone who will listen.


Luke Mayfield is the Fire Program Manager for MYSTERY RANCH where he leads ongoing efforts to provide the fire community with purpose-built, fire-specific packs. He is also a former Supervisory Forestry Technician/Assistant Hotshot Superintendent and the President of the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.

What does Grassroots mean to the fire community?

The Grassroots Wildland Firefighters have become a platform for cohesion, advocacy, and community. It’s become a bridge to ensure that on the ground operators at all levels are heard and our voices are heard as a collective group. It’s a group of some of the finest civilian operators in the world and for too long this community was too quiet and acted independently. Grassroots didn’t create these issues and Grassroots takes no credit for the positive reforms we’ve seen and are continuing to advocate for. A multitude of these issues have been discussed for over 30 years. As we face climate change and a dwindling workforce a combination of the Grassroots platform, timing, luck, and companies like MYSTERY RANCH have assisted in seeing real change. Grassroots is assisting in allowing the wildland fire community to find their voice and use it together.

How can MYSTERY RANCH continue to be an advocate for the wildland workforce?

MYSTERY RANCH can continue to build the best gear and ensure that there is a workforce to use it. MYSTERY RANCH has been extremely supportive of Grassroots directly and indirectly from the inception of Grassroots. MYSTERY RANCH can continue to support the community holistically and ensure that we play a part in supporting the fire community from the first time they put line gear on to the last time.

One objective of Grassroots is to provide a platform for advocacy and self-advocacy. How can MYSTERY RANCH act as a force multiplier in these efforts?

Keep doing what we are doing. Between the Backbone Series, Backbone Scholarships, AWE, and non-profit support, MYSTERY RANCH is playing a pivotal role in advocating for 21st-century and a 21st-century workforce that is effectively recruited, retained, and capable of answering the call. One of my goals as a hotshot was to keep people as comfortable as possible in uncomfortable situations and MYSTERY RANCH plays a huge part in that on multiple levels.