Basic Wildland Fire Safety For Structural Firefighters

During the past year, I have received a number of requests from structural firefighters to write a column about basic wildland fire safety.


During the past year, I have received a number of requests from structural firefighters to write a column about basic wildland fire safety. Last year was an unusually tragic and deadly one for some structural firefighters that operated at wildland and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fires. According...


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During the past year, I have received a number of requests from structural firefighters to write a column about basic wildland fire safety. Last year was an unusually tragic and deadly one for some structural firefighters that operated at wildland and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fires. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 21 structural firefighters became line-of-duty death (LODD) statistics at these types of fires. Many others received injuries that were minor to very serious.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Venomous snakes are a hazard at wildland fires in many areas of the country. Here, a rattlesnake has its fangs hooked onto the bottom of my right pant leg.

The LODDs resulted from a variety of causes, i.e., burnover, smoke inhalation, heart attacks, electrocution, motor vehicle accidents and, in one case, drowning. The following are but a few of the basic tenets of wildland fire safety.

The most important consideration during any fire incident is always life safety, first!

10 Standard Fire Orders

  1. Fight the fire aggressively, but provide for safety FIRST.
  2. Initiate all actions based on current and anticipated fire behavior.
  3. Recognize current weather conditions and get weather forecasts.
  4. Ensure that instructions are issued and clearly understood by everyone.
  5. Obtain current information on the fire's status.
  6. Remain in communication with your personnel, your supervisor/incident commander (IC) and other companies.
  7. Determine safety zone areas and establish escape routes.
  8. Establish lookouts in dangerous situations.
  9. Retain control at all times.
  10. Stay alert, keep calm, think clearly and act decisively.

18 Situations That Shout "Watch Out!"

  1. The fire is not sized up or scouted out.
  2. You are in an area not familiar to you or your crew and not seen in daylight.
  3. Safety zones and escape routes have not been established or identified.
  4. You are not familiar with the weather and factors influencing it.
  5. You are not informed of the tactics, strategy and hazards of incident.
  6. The instructions and assignments are not clearly understood.
  7. There are no communications with the firefighters or the officer/IC.
  8. Constructing/cutting a fireline/fuel break without a safe anchor point.
  9. Constructing/cutting a fireline/fuel break downhill with fire burning below crew.
  10. Attempting a frontal fire attack.
  11. There are unburned fuels between you/crew and the fire.
  12. You cannot see the main body of fire and do not know where it is heading.
  13. Operating on a hillside where rolling materials can start a fire below you.
  14. The weather is getting drier and hotter.
  15. The winds are changing direction and/or increasing in speed.
  16. There are frequent spot fires igniting.
  17. The terrain and the vegetation can make escape routes and safety zones difficult to get to.
  18. You feel like taking a nap near the fireline.

What Is "L.A.C.E.S."?

Lookouts - Putting an experienced and trusted person where the fire can be seen is a must.

Awareness - Be alert to what is happening around you. Look up, down and around.

Communications - Are you able to communicate with the lookout(s), your crew and the IC?

Escape routes/Safety zones - Have at least two routes and zones been established and does everyone know where they are?

Factors To Consider

Apparatus operations. While enroute to a fire incident: know the location of the fire; drive with care and caution considering the conditions of the road and traffic; and drive as though EVERYONE'S life depended on your safe driving skills. At the scene: use extreme caution if heavy smoke is obscuring vision; watch for other apparatus; be alert for people and animals making a hasty evacuation in your direction; watch for escape routes and remember them; when parking apparatus, keep away from vegetation, if possible; back into a driveway or dead-end road in case you may need to make a quick exit; move apparatus slowly and be sure no one is dangerously too close to its wheels; and if there is no water supply, always leave about a quarter of the booster tank full for the crew's protection. If you are the apparatus operator and you feel tired and groggy, let a more alert and qualified firefighter drive the apparatus back from the scene.

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