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At Captain Crossfit, a warehouse filled with mats, obstacle courses, climbing walls and acrobatic rings near the firehouse where the Hotshots worked, trainers Janine Pereira and Tony Burris talked about their day-to-day experiences with the crew in what was a home away from home for most of them.
The whole group grew beards and mustaches before the fire season started but had to shave them for safety.
"They were trying to get away with it, and finally someone was like, ‘No. You’ve got to shave that beard,’" Pereira said. "They were the strongest, the happiest, always smiling."
Former Marine Travis Turbyfill, 27, whose nickname was "Turby," would come in to train in the morning, then return in the afternoon with his two daughters and wife, Stephanie, a nurse, Pereira said.
"He’d wear these tight shorts ... just to be goofy," Pereira said. "He was in the Marine Corps and he was a Hotshot, so he could wear those and no one would bug him."
Andrew Ashcraft, 29, another Prescott High graduate, would bring his four children to the Captain Crossfit daycare, Pereira said.
"He’d come in in the early morning and do a workout, and then, to support his wife, he’d do one again," she said. "He’d carry her around sometimes and give her a kiss in front of all his guys."
Other members of the group were just beginning families.
Sean Misner, 26, leaves behind a wife who is seven months pregnant, said Mark Swanitz, principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in Santa Barbara County, where Misner graduated in 2005. Marine Corps veteran Billy Warneke, 25, and his wife, Roxanne, were expecting their first child in December, his grandmother, Nancy Warneke, told The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside.
At 43, crew superintendent Eric Marsh was by far the oldest member of the group. An avid mountain biker who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, Marsh became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of Marsh’s cousin.
In April 2012, Marsh let reporters from the ASU Cronkite News Service observe one of the crew’s training sessions. That day, they were playing out the "nightmare scenario" — surrounded by flames, with nothing but a thin, reflective shelter between them and incineration.
"If we’re not actually doing it, we’re thinking and planning about it," Marsh said.
During that exercise, one of the new crew members "died."
"It’s not uncommon to have a rookie die," Marsh told the news service. "Fake die, of course."
On Monday, more than 1,000 people crowded into the bleachers and spilled onto the gymnasium floor at the Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The crowd stood for more than a minute as firefighters in uniform walked in.
U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon said the Hotshots had made the ultimate sacrifice: "They gave their lives for their friends."
"It’s times like today that define who we are," he said.
When U.S. Rep. David Schweikert asked audience members to raise their hands if they knew one of the fallen firefighters, about a third of the crowd did.
In a shaking voice, Fire Chief Fraijo described a picnic he threw last month for his new recruits and their families. Earlier Monday, he met with those same families in another auditorium and gave them the tragic news.
"Those families lost," he said. "The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost. The state of Arizona and the nation lost."
Associated Press reporters Raquel Maria Dillon in Seal Beach, Calif., Sue Manning in Los Angeles and Felicia Fonseca in Prescott contributed to this report.
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