Retired wildland firefighter Jerry Barton and nurse Becky Wrenn drove from Kalispell, Mont., to Las Vegas after reading about the Carpenter 1 Fire on Mount Charleston. They set up shop across the street from the firefighters’ command center at Centennial High School, and within four hours, they were open for business.
What they’re selling are custom screen-printed T-shirts commemorating the fire. Their customers are firefighters who see the shirts as a badge of honor.
Barton said he still has T-shirts he picked up during the 10 years he fought wildfires. Looking to make some money, he figured this would be a way to start a new business and be a part of the action again.
T-shirts hang from clothing racks outside. Barton stands at the edge of a utility trailer next to a large, four-screen color press.
“They’ve got everything they need for firefighting, but one of the things they don’t have is a souvenir,” Barton said, dragging a thin layer of white paint across a framed screen with a squeegee.
He lifts the screen, and printed in white are the words, “Carpenter 1 Nevada Wildfire, Mount Charleston, July 2013.”
The T-shirt, designed by Wrenn and called “Dream within a Dreamcatcher,” shows two small planes leading a larger plane as it drops fire retardant over burning trees. The entire scene is encased within a large Native American dreamcatcher.
Barton swivels the color press to another screen and repeats the process. Once he finishes, he flash-dries the shirt, now in full color with accents of green, red and orange.
The cost is $20 for a multi-color shirt, $10 for all-white.
Las Vegas is the first business stop for Barton, who created Tee Pee T-shirts in late 2012. His mobile business — complete with remote WiFi, a laptop for designing shirts on the road, a camper for sleeping and the enclosed utility trailer that stores the printing press, paint and 400 to 500 shirts — is so far the only one of its kind at the Carpenter 1 Fire.
Barton and Wrenn bought the entire set-up used: $750 for the camper, $4,000 for the trailer, and $1,500 for the printing press, 24 screens and other supplies. The shirts cost an additional $2,000.
Barton’s wildfire souvenir shirts are a hot commodity among firefighters. Many of them place their orders in the morning and pick up their shirts at the end of their 12-hour shift.
Dennis Turpin, a logger who cuts down trees to help keep fires from spreading, pulled off the street to buy two color-printed shirts, one in navy and the other in black.
“I go buy them for my kids so they can know where I’ve been,” said Turpin, who’s been buying commemorative shirts since 2001.
James Stone, who has worked 41 years in the fire service, said he’s particular when it comes to buying commemorative T-shirts.
“If I’ve felt good about what I did and I felt like I did an outstanding contribution, then I buy a shirt so I can remember it,” said Stone, reflecting on the 2008 Cascade Fire near Red Lodge, Mont. “Commanders thanking me. Working with the community and the evacuees, helping them understand what we do as firefighters.”
Barton plans to stay another week, as long as business is good. And then it’s hitting the road in search of the next fire.
He finished another shirt and inspected it. He called out to Wrenn: “Smokin’. It’s smokin’ hot!”
Wrenn looked up and smiled.
“It looks good, baby.”
Contact Melissah Yang at email@example.com or 702-383-0491. Follow her on Twitter @MelissahYang.