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Front Page » July 17, 2007 » Local News » Clothing items become hit with wildfire crews
Published 3,005 days ago

Clothing items become hit with wildfire crews

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Bill Clayton cleans his silk screening equipment just before opening for business. He creates custom shirts for fire crews on site.

When there is an accident or a fire, people tend to gather to watch the action. But a lot of the interested spectators get in the way of emergency crews.

But Bill Clayton of Fort Garland, Colo., has different reason to go to fires. He sells clothing to the fire fighters.

"I follow wild land fire fighters all season and set up my shop where ever they will let me," said the merchant as he prepared his silk screen equipment for another day in the parking lot of the Western Energy Traning Center in Willow Creek Canyon. "This is a great business."

Clayton, who makes tee shirts and sweat shirts with logos emblazoned upon them about the fire nearest his portable businesses location, finds that wild land fire fighters and many others appreciate his efforts.

"I make the shirts right here on site as a souvenier of their time spent at the fire line," he said. "Many of them wear them because right at the staging site and others wear them later to other fires."

Clayton's words were well documented at the early morning briefing meetings during the Mathis fire. Some of those that attended had Mathis fire garb on. Many others displayed shirts and sweats from various other fires where Clayton had set up shop over the years.

Clayton got into the business because of his father, who was a fire fighter and later started the clothing business as a sideline.

Fire fighters are a colorful lot. Many of the teams that were at the Mathis fire had special names like Idaho Hot Shots, Lolo Hotshots, and El Cariso Hot Shots to name a few. The teams work as true units with all the coordination of an athletic endeavor.

"Leading a fire crew, whether it is as a group leader or as the incident commander is a lot like coaching a football team," said Richard Harvey the federal incident commander on the Mathis fire last week. "In fact, at one point, I was a high school football coach and I know the similarities are amazing."

The color, the excitement and the danger of their jobs all leads to comraderie unseen in many other types of business. Fire fighters say the endeavor gets in their blood, and for Clayton it is just a way to follow through on his dad's legacy.

"My father died recently, but I have continued the business," said Clayton. "At some fires I make good money, at others I spend a lot of gas and travel money and bring home nothing. But it is great business just the same."

Then he ran off to talk with some fire fighters in a fire equipment truck who had seen his shirts and wanted to buy some.

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