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.
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
- Fight the fire aggressively, but provide for safety FIRST.
- Initiate all actions based on current and anticipated fire behavior.
- Recognize current weather conditions and get weather forecasts.
- Ensure that instructions are issued and clearly understood by everyone.
- Obtain current information on the fire's status.
- Remain in communication with your personnel, your supervisor/incident commander (IC) and other companies.
- Determine safety zone areas and establish escape routes.
- Establish lookouts in dangerous situations.
- Retain control at all times.
- Stay alert, keep calm, think clearly and act decisively.
18 Situations That Shout "Watch Out!"
- The fire is not sized up or scouted out.
- You are in an area not familiar to you or your crew and not seen in daylight.
- Safety zones and escape routes have not been established or identified.
- You are not familiar with the weather and factors influencing it.
- You are not informed of the tactics, strategy and hazards of incident.
- The instructions and assignments are not clearly understood.
- There are no communications with the firefighters or the officer/IC.
- Constructing/cutting a fireline/fuel break without a safe anchor point.
- Constructing/cutting a fireline/fuel break downhill with fire burning below crew.
- Attempting a frontal fire attack.
- There are unburned fuels between you/crew and the fire.
- You cannot see the main body of fire and do not know where it is heading.
- Operating on a hillside where rolling materials can start a fire below you.
- The weather is getting drier and hotter.
- The winds are changing direction and/or increasing in speed.
- There are frequent spot fires igniting.
- The terrain and the vegetation can make escape routes and safety zones difficult to get to.
- 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.