NWCG Approves Changes in Wildland Tactics

Changes that I proposed in my September 2009 column in Firehouse® Magazine have been adopted by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), an organization that represents the five federal firefighting agencies, in addition to state and local fire...


Changes that I proposed in my September 2009 column in Firehouse® Magazine have been adopted by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), an organization that represents the five federal firefighting agencies, in addition to state and local fire representatives. The changes will occur...


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Changes that I proposed in my September 2009 column in Firehouse® Magazine have been adopted by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), an organization that represents the five federal firefighting agencies, in addition to state and local fire representatives. The changes will occur first in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), scheduled to be released early this year. The changes involve the descriptive terms of threatened structures in a wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire and reorganization of structure size-up considerations.

As shared in the September column, it is my contention that the current categories are vague and lack descriptive terms that indicate a course of action, especially for fire officers or firefighters who occasionally respond to — or perhaps are responding for the first time to — a wildland fire with structures threatened. A wind-driven urban interface fire is one of the most challenging fire assignments an officer can be exposed to. That will require time-compressed, critical decisions that will include life threat to citizens and firefighters by dynamic fire behavior that will be influenced by wind, fuel and terrain.

The concept is this: anywhere in the country, a fire officer or firefighter will see or hear the categories and understand the tactic. Said another way; the category indicates a course of action. A brief description of the four new categories follows (see my September column for further details of each category):

  • Defensible; prep and hold — Determining factor: Safety zone present for firefighters and apparatus
  • Defensible; stand-alone without staffing — Determining factor: Safety zone present, structure requires little or no attention
  • Prep and leave — Determining factor: No safety zone for firefighters or apparatus
  • Rescue drive-by — Determining factor: No safety zone for firefighters or apparatus

Two of the four new descriptive terms let the fire officer understand that some structures are not defensible. The concept that they have the right and duty to say "no" are counter-intuitive to fire officers. Other than hazardous materials or terrorist incidents, firefighters respond daily to our customers' calls for help and handle the situations in a rapid, professional manner. Saying no to an order or a request to protect structures on a given street must be based on criteria that determine it is not safe to do so, such as no safety zone for apparatus or firefighters. Another example may be a structure that is mid-slope with heavy fuel below with no safety zone or usable escape route to a safety zone.

Prep and leave/rescue drive-by have not been taught in the past, yet some experienced firefighters have performed these functions without a category. An example of prep and leave would be a structure that is non-defendable due to no safety zone for firefighters or their apparatus. However, in the officers' view, there is a reasonable expectation that prepping the structure (prep) by performing light mitigation and or applying a retardant such as compressed air foam or a gel will provide firefighters with a delaying action of structure ignition. Following prepping, the fire company must exit to the closest safety zone. When it is safe to re-enter the area, firefighters may follow the fire in and save property if possible. The concept of prep and leave is provided that adequate time is available to perform the prepping prior to the firefront arrival.

The best example I can share of a rescue drive-by is an incident that occurred on the "Witch Fire" in 2007 in the City of San Diego, CA. The San Diego City Fire Department (SDFD) asked me to present an eight-hour structure protection class, including a four-hour staff ride tour of the wildland interface area where 400-plus homes had recently burned on the Witch Fire. While conducting the staff ride, a civilian approached the group of 25 members of the SDFD. He asked to speak to the firefighters, captains and chief officers. I had just spoken with the fire group about the extreme unsafe position where we were located. I referred to this piece of ground as a "mine field" or "kill zone" because the homes were in a draw leading to a saddle with five homes, all mid-slope, as was the roadway.

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