Annual Wildfire Safety Awareness Training - Part 2
4. Fireline Organization
Chain of Command
Firefighter safety and effectiveness is the responsibility of their direct supervisor. The primary method used to ensure that firefighters are always working safely and effectively is the chain of command rule which states: firefighters have 'one boss and one boss only'. Firefighters report to and take directions from their direct supervisor only, even if other supervisors are nearby. The chain of command must always be maintained for safety and efficiency. Firefighters must make sure that they never change locations without their Crew Leader's knowledge and approval.
Span of Control
To ensure safety and efficiency, supervisors should only supervise up to a maximum of 7 people; the optimum span of control is 1 supervisor to 5 people.
5. Fireline Safety
Crew Safety Briefing
Crew Leaders will hold a pre-work safety meeting, and provide ongoing updates to ensure that firefighters stay informed.
Firefighters can expect the following essential information to be reviewed at their Crew Leader's pre-work safety briefing:
- The Chain of Command;
- Designated Lookouts (if any assigned);
- Communications plan detailing communications procedures between firefighters and between firefighters and their direct supervisor;
- A minimum of two Escape Routes that lead to Safety Zones in case firefighters and equipment are threatened by sudden fire behaviour changes;
- Known fireline hazards; each firefighter has a responsibility to alert other firefighters about any fireline hazard (e.g.: changes in fire behaviour, snags, etc.);
- Safe work procedures;
- Current and predicted fire behaviour;
- Fire suppression plans, current fire actions and progress being made;
- Suppression assignments the crew will be carrying out;
- Individual work tasks.
Source: British Columbia S100 Basic Fire Suppression & Safety Student Workbook [ 8 ]
LCES System of Safe Work Procedures
Safe work procedures exist for all fire suppression assignments that firefighters will carry out.
Source: British Columbia S100 Basic Fire Suppression & Safety Student Workbook [ 9 ]
L C E S (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) is a system of safe work procedures that utilizes the important aspects of the "10 Standard Fire Orders" and the "18 Situations that Shout WATCHOUT". The L C E S system enables firefighters to work safely around fireline hazards.
10 Standard Fire Orders
- "Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.
- Know what your fire is doing at all times.
- Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire.
- Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.
- Post a lookout where there is possible danger.
- Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
- Maintain prompt communication with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces.
- Give clear instructions and insure they are understood.
- Maintain control of your forces at all times.
- Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first."
Source: CPF Wildland Fire Safety [ 10 ]
18 Situations that Shout WATCHOUT
- "Fire not scouted and sized up.
- In country, not seen in daylight.
- Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
- Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
- Uninformed regarding strategy, tactics, and hazards.
- Instructions and assignments are not clear.
- No communication with your company or supervisor.
- Constructing line without a safe anchor point.
- Building fireline downhill with fire below.
- Attempting a frontal assault on the fire.
- Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
- Cannot see the main fire and not in communication with someone who can.
- On a hillside where rolling material can ignite material below.
- Weather is getting hotter and drier.
- Wind increasing or changing direction.
- Getting frequent spot fires across the fireline.
- Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zone difficult.
- Taking a nap near the fireline."
Source: CPF Wildland Fire Safety [ 11 ]
Lookouts are experienced firefighters who:
- Continuously scout and size-up a fire;
- Use fire environment characteristics and behaviour to create an effective lookout system;
- Maintain contact with the crew at all times.
- Remain in communications with the full fireline organization at all times;
- Ensure that all information is understood and passed on;
- Warn other firefighters of identified fire hazards;
- Not work alone or out of earshot of other crew members.
- Provide quick access to safety zones when firefighters need to retreat from a threatened position on the fireline;
- Effectiveness changes all the time, due to fire behaviour;
- Must be scouted, timed and marked.
The fireline is the most common escape route. Firefighters must always have more than one escape route that leads to an effective safety zone. When a fire jumps over an indirect or parallel fireline, firefighters' escape route options can be severely reduced. If safety zones have not been identified ahead and in the rear, retreat may not be possible.
Safety zones are predetermined locations where firefighters can obtain safe refuge from danger, when threatened by fire hazards. Effective safety zones shelter all firefighters from heat, smoke, falling timber, snags, rolling debris, etc. Examples include burned areas, water sources and large areas cleared of flammable vegetation.
Fireline Evacuation Procedures
When a crew leader decides to move their crew away from the fireline utilizing an escape route to a safety zone, all firefighters will use these procedures:
- Stay with your crew and follow crew leader's instructions;
- Take hand tools and packs (unless crew leader orders them to be dropped);
- Do not panic;
- Do not run.
Firefighters' Three 'R's
- Retreat --> Regroup --> Reassess
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Source: British Columbia S100 Basic Fire Suppression & Safety Student Workbook [ 12 ]
WorkSafe BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Part 26.3.3 requires that:
- Except under emergency conditions, a worker who is fighting a forest fire must wear
- long pants and a long sleeved shirt made of cotton, wool, denim or flame resistant material, or
- other protective clothing appropriate to the hazards to which the worker may be exposed.
Safety boot specifications depend on actual duties. At a minimum firefighters require 8" hi-top leather boots with 'Vibram' lug type soles.
Do not wear synthetic clothing on the fireline as it will ignite more easily, adhere to the skin and cause serious burns.
There are five primary hazards in the wildland fire environment:
- Fire entrapment;
- Danger trees;
- Rocks and rolling debris;
- Heavy equipment and aircraft;
- Unsafe personal behaviour.
Fire entrapment happens when a wildfire abruptly changes its direction and/or rate of spread and blocks firefighters from using escape routes to safety zones.
Fire Entrapment Avoidance
It is critical that firefighters:
- Recognize fuels, weather and topography that can cause hazardous fire behaviour;
- Utilize lookouts, communications, escape routes and safety zones to avoid fire entrapment;
- Do not fight a fire when their safety is compromised
- Remain alert and conscious of changing fireline conditions.
Hazardous fuels that may cause a fire to spread rapidly include:
- Fine fuels (grass, needles, twigs, small trees, logging debris such as limbs and tops);
- Dead or diseased fuels (dried grasses, red-needled branches, dead trees - both standing and wind-thrown);
- Closely spaced fuels (large numbers of dead and downed trees on forest floor, ladder fuels that allow fire to climb into canopy, dense forest with high number of stems per hectare);
- Unburned fuels between the edge of the fire and firefighters or below firefighters working on steep slopes.
Weather conditions that create erratic and/or quickly spreading wildfire include:
- Wind speed increasing;
- Wind direction changing;
- High temperatures with low humidities;
- Extended drought resulting in low fuel moisture content;
- Thunderstorms creating strong, gusty winds, as well as wind shifts and downdrafts.
Hazardous topography and minor topographical variations that can abruptly increase fire rate of spread include:
- Steep slopes;
- South-facing aspects;
- Canyons, chimneys and gullies.
Firefighters must be on the alert for entrapment fire behaviour such as:
- Numerous spot fires or widespread spotting activity.
Fire entrapment risk can increase due to:
- Communication breakdown, miscommunication or a lack of communication.
If you are Trapped (Fire Entrapment)
- With a fire shelter;
- Without a fire shelter.
With a Fire Shelter:
A fire shelter is a tent-like structure that shields firefighters from radiant heat during entrapment. The shelter must be carried on the fireline in British Columbia and requires additional training (S-185) in its use.
Without a Fire Shelter:
"Protecting your lungs and airways is your one chance for survival. Fire resistant clothing is the primary means of protection during entrapment. Advise immediate supervisor (Crew Leader) of the situation. Request retardant drops on fuels surrounding your location.
1. Attempt to shelter within the burned area:
- Find an area of the fire front that consists of lighter fuels;
- Protect yourself as much as possible - ensure that sleeves are down, collar up, gloves and goggles are on, use a shovel blade or jacket to deflect radiant heat from the face;
- Take a deep breath and move quickly through the fire front into the burned area;
- AVOID BREATHING HOT AIR - HOT AIR GASES CAN FATALLY DAMAGE AIRWAYS AND LUNGS;
- Keep moving back and away from the fire front. Watch for falling snags and rocks.
2. If you are unable to access the burned area, attempt to shelter on the ground:
- Find a fuel-free depression or trench, preferably behind a rock or dirt pile (to block radiant heat);
- The side of a ridge away from the advancing fire is also a good location, but you may later have to move back into the burned area if sparks ignite fuels on the ridge below you (and the fire starts burning back up the lee slope towards you);
- Benches or roads on the side of a hill are good choices when you lie along the uphill side of the road or bench - watch for rolling materials from upslope;
- Other possible sites include helispots, fire control lines and stump holes of uprooted trees;
- Lie flat on the ground, parallel to the flame front and curl your arms and hands around your head and ears for protection;
- Cover yourself with clothing and/or dirt and take shallow breaths at ground level;
- Remain on the ground until the fire passes. STAYING LOW AND PROTECTING YOUR AIRWAY IS YOUR ONLY CHANCE TO SURVIVE UNDER THESE CONDITIONS.
- Raising above the ground, even a few inches, can be fatal. Once you commit yourself, do not move."
Source: British Columbia S100 Basic Fire Suppression & Safety Student Workbook [ 13 ]
"A Dangerous Tree is any tree (regardless of its size) that is hazardous to people or facilities because of:
- Location or lean;
- Physical damage;
- Overhead hazards;
- Deterioration of limbs, stem or root system;
- A combination of the above."
Source: WSBC/BCFS Wildlife/Dangerous Tree Assessor's Course Wild Fire Safety Module Workbook [ 14 ]
WorkSafe BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Part 26.11.1 states that:
- If it is known or reasonably foreseeable that work will expose a worker to a dangerous tree,
- the tree must be felled, or
- a risk assessment of the tree must be undertaken by a person who has completed a training program acceptable to the Board.
Assessment of danger trees must be carried out by an individual who has attended and passed the Wildlife/Dangerous Tree Assessor's Course - Wildland Fire Safety Module within the previous four years, and holds a valid certificate with this designation.
When trees are assessed and identified as dangerous, they must be managed before workers are exposed to them. The area of exposure is usually within 1.5 tree lengths of the danger tree, however this area can be larger or smaller depending on site specific factors. Danger tree management options include one of the following:
- Fall the danger tree;
- Remove the hazardous part of the tree;
- Install a No Work Zone around the tree to prevent workers from being exposed to the danger.
Time Frames for Assessments
The first danger tree assessment must be completed during the initial size-up. In a wildland fire, these assessments are only good for up to 72 hours. Reassessments are required when the following situations occur:
- When the build-up index is above thresholds1 in areas of active burning and fire suppression, danger tree assessments are only good for 24 hours;
- Work has been stopped and then restarted in an area;
- A major wind storm has caused structural damage in an area;
- When work activity in an area has caused more disturbance than when the area was originally assessed.
1 Covered in detail in the Wildlife/Dangerous Tree Assessor's Course - Wildland Fire Safety Module.
Firefighting crew members should not assume that danger tree assessors will identify and address all dangerous trees in an area. Conditions change quickly and no one is perfect. Each firefighter must be responsible for their own safety. All firefighters must make sure:
- Danger trees have been taken care of in a work area before entering;
- They keep looking up for new or missed danger trees;
- All newly identified danger trees are addressed before crews are exposed to them;
- They can recognize danger tree significant hazards.
Danger Tree Significant Hazards
Firefighters must be able to recognize following danger tree significant hazards which indicate a high failure potential:
- > 50% stem damage;
- > 50% root damage;
- > 15% new lean and damaged root system;
- Hung up limbs and/or tops.
Rocks and Rolling Debris
Deep layers of duff and moss can burned-off by a ground fire, leaving rocks and other large debris such as logs and root wads destabilized and ready to roll downhill without warning.
Heavy equipment, helicopter propeller downwash and firefighters crossing slopes can all set off falling rocks and boulders. Even relatively small rocks rolling down a steep slope can fatally injure a firefighter. Firefighters must shout 'ROCK' if rocks or other debris are loosened unintentionally or noticed rolling downslope.
Avoid working downhill of other firefighters.
Heavy Equipment and Aircraft
Firefighters can be endangered when trees and rocks, moved by heavy equipment, fall and/or roll into the work area. Heavy equipment working on slopes is particularly hazardous and crews must never work downhill.
Downdrafts from helicopters or airtankers can blow down trees and widow-makers onto firefighters as well as increase fire activity. Firefighting crews must be very cautious during aircraft operations and keep visual contact with the aircraft until it has left the area.
Firefighters must follow safe work practices when working with heavy equipment and aircraft.
Unsafe Personal Behaviour
Firefighters must maintain a safety first priority for every task they undertake. They must take precautions against unsafe personal behaviour such as:
- Not following the crew leader's directions;
- Not understanding directions;
- Not communicating clearly;
- Being overconfident;
- Rushing or working too fast;
- Working while fatigued.
Firefighter Physical Fitness
Physical Demands of Wildland Fire Fighting
Firefighting is tough work and involves doing physically demanding tasks under hot and dusty conditions with oxygen availability often impacted by altitude, smoke and carbon monoxide. Physical fitness is the key to firefighter safety and productivity.
Wildland firefighters who work long, extended shifts are vulnerable to fatigue which can cause serious or fatal accidents.
Heat Exposure Disorders
Firefighters are under threat of heat exposure and other heat-related emergencies. The body reacts to excessive heat in several ways. Every worker must recognize each of the heat-related disorders and be ready to provide first aid to anyone who needs it - including themselves:
- Heat cramps;
- Heat exhaustion;
- Heat stroke.
Other Steps to Avoid Incident
It is very important that firefighters are physically fit and aware of the potential for heat-related emergencies. Other steps that they can take to prevent an incident include:
- Stay rested;
- Eat balanced and nutritious meals;
- Replace fluids sufficiently;
- Avoid heavy smoke and carbon monoxide.