Structural Vs. Wildland: Tools & Equipment, That Is

Using the correct tools and equipment that fit the circumstances at any given emergency incident will ultimately determine the success or failure to safely, effectively and efficiently reach the intended goals and objectives of that incident. In other words, don't use a booster line flowing water at 50 gallons per minute on a fully involved five-story factory.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Struggling through the woods in full bunker personal protective equipment (PPE) and carrying almost 50 pounds of additional weight on your back is physically very demanding on the body. The water in the backpack extinguisher can be made more efficient by adding five ounces of Class A foam concentrate to its five gallons of water.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
This firefighter is correctly dressed (less a fire shelter) for wildland fire suppression operations. His hoseline is a lightweight one-inch-diameter type that is highly maneuverable in vegetation. The nozzle is a "twister" type that flows 10-40 gpm and provides a straight stream or a fog pattern. Water mixed with Class A foam or other additive is a highly effective tool.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Dragging a fully charged 1 3/4-inch line through heavy woods or brush while wearing structural PPE can exhaust even the fittest of firefighters.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
These photos depict re-enactments by firefighters from a small Vermont town where wildland and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fires are a way of life. This fire department is well on its way to becoming correctly equipped to handle these types of fires.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Structure protection can be established in advance by connecting smaller-diameter hose to lightweight "wyes" and "tees" in larger-diameter feeder hose. These are called "lateral lines." (A word of caution here. Under heavy fire conditions or expected heavy fire conditions, the use of larger-diameter handheld hose, up to and including heavy-stream appliances, is strongly advised. Again, it is a matter of training and experience to judge what is an adequate water flow under fire suppression operations.)

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Structure protection from an advancing wildland fire or exposure protection from a heavily involved structure can be successfully accomplished by the use of a small-diameter hose-line, the correct foam-application device and the right mix of Class A foam or other additive and water. Structural PPE at W/UI fires is fine as long as the firefighters are not overexerting themselves.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Wearing structural PPE when encountering heavy fire conditions at a W/UI fire can provide more protection than the lighter-weight wildland PPE. Wearing the correct PPE for the situation encountered is a matter of training and experience.

So why do so many structural fire departments still fight wildland and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fires using heavyweight structural tools and equipment? Good grief! Our structural bunker personal protective equipment (PPE) is difficult enough to operate "normally" in while at structure fires. Why do so many firefighters wear this clothing in the brush and woodlands on hot days, struggling to pull hundreds of feet of heavy hose designed and constructed for structural use? Maybe it's a lack of training. Is it a funding issue? Or, "We've always done it this way and the fires still go out."

Photo by Robert M. Winston
This firefighter is applying Class A foam to wildland fuels. Once the fire reaches these "treated" fuels, the fire will slow its forward progress and be more easily controlled and extinguished.

Now, I'm not talking about the small vegetation fire that's alongside the road or that's a few feet into the woods that can be easily extinguished with a tankful or two of water. I'm talking about those difficult fires where one has to trudge through the wildlands, up and down hills or along the flats for hundreds of feet before reaching the flames. I'm talking about those long-duration firefights in warm to hot temperature conditions that can cause a firefighter's body to overheat, leading to exhaustion, stroke and possibly death. Blisters on the feet caused by heavy rubber boots are no fun, either.

Most structural fire departments spend thousands of dollars to properly outfit their firefighters with the correct PPE to meet all of the health and safety standards that are mandated for structural fire suppression, hazmat operations, EMS incidents, technical rescue and swiftwater missions. The health and safety of our emergency service personnel are a priority issue. Millions of dollars are expended on rehab units and allied equipment to recuperate the overheated firefighter. With this in mind, why not take one more step and spend a few hundred dollars more and properly equip those same firefighters with tools and PPE for wildland and W/UI fire operations, if there is a need to do so? Refer back to the previous paragraph.

One more point. Your response area may contain little or no wildlands or W/UI fire problems. However, through a mutual aid response, your department may be called upon to assist another city, town, county or state in battling a serious wildland or W/UI fire. Will your agency be prepared to do this safely, effectively and efficiently with the tools and equipment on hand?

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Another method of applying Class A foam is by using a lightweight portable foam-application device.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
A lightweight portable foam device can quickly coat a vegetation-covered area, creating a virtual "fire break" with little effort.

Be very safe out there. It can get dangerous very quickly.

Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district fire chief in the Boston Fire Department with extensive experience and training in wildland and SWI protection. Questions and comments may be sent to him via e-mail at