During the past year I have received a number of requests from structural firefighters to write an article about basic wildland fire safety. Last year was a particularly deadly one for some structural firefighters that operated at wildland and wildland/urban interface fires (W/UI). Nearly a dozen structural firefighters became Line Of Duty Death (LODD) statistics at these types of fires. Many others received injuries that were minor to very serious. The LODDs resulted from a variety of causes, i.e., burn over; smoke inhalation; heart attacks; electrocution; vehicle accidents and one LODD from drowning.
THE MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION DURING ANY FIRE INCIDENT IS ALWAYS LIFE SAFETY, FIRST!
THE TEN (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 fire's status.
- Remain in communications with your personnel, your supervisor/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.
THE EIGHTEEN (18)SITUATIONS THAT SHOUT "WATCH OUT!!"
- Fire is not sized up or scouted out.
- You are in an area not familiar to you or 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.
- 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.
- The crew is 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.?
- Look outs-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 IC?
- Escape Routes/Safety Zones-Have these routes and zones been established, at least TWO, and does everyone know where they are?
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; 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; when moving apparatus do it slowly and be sure no one is dangerously too close to its wheels; if there is no water supply, always leave about a quarter of the booster tank full for the crews 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.