Brendan was on the verge of becoming a hopeless, inveterate heroin addict when he, for the sake of his young daughter, decided to turn his life around. He enlisted in the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of elite hotshot firefighters based in Prescott, Arizona. Their superintendent, Eric Marsh, was in a desperate crunch after four hotshots left the crew, and seeing a glimmer of promise in the skinny would-be recruit, he took a chance on the unlikely McDonough, and the chance paid off. Despite the crew’s skepticism, and thanks in large part to Marsh’s firm but loving encouragement, McDonough unlocked a latent drive and dedication, going on to successfully battles a number of blazes and he eventually wins the confidence of the men he came to call his brothers.
Then, on June 30, 2013, while McDonough–“Donut” as he’d been dubbed by his crew–served as lookout, they confronted a freak, 3,000-degree inferno in nearby Yarnell, Arizona. The relentless firestorm ultimately trapped his hotshot brothers, tragically killing all 19 of them within minutes. Nationwide, it was the greatest loss of firefighter lives since the 9/11 attacks.
After the unfathomable loss of that day, McDonough suffered from seemingly insurmountable bouts of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress, and issues with alcohol. But the light of hope that inspired him to keep living in one of his darkest moments—his family who needed him—inspired the firefighter to fight on against depression, addiction and to inspire others to find their best selves, even if that means often looking beyond the self. Building a sense of brotherhood within communities gives McDonough great joy – because it helps this fighter honor the legacy of his 19 lost, but not forgotten, brothers.
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