Annual Wildfire Safety Awareness Training - Part 3
6. Emergency Fireline Communications
Emergency Procedure - 'MAYDAY'
MAYDAY distress transmissions must only be used when people are threatened by grave and imminent danger, such as serious injury, fire entrapment, aircraft incidents, etc., and require immediate assistance:
- Ensure the radio is turned on;
- Do not change the radio channel;
- Call ‘MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY,’ followed by “THIS IS…” and identify your station or self, your location and the nature of the emergency.
- All stations hearing your call will monitor all transmissions on the channel and one station (usually the one closest or most able to help) will reply and take steps to help.
- If you do not receive a response after several tries, change the channel selector to CH1/F1 and repeat steps 1 - 3. Changing location by moving upslope or into a clearing may help improve reception.
- If you still do not get a response, listen to the other channels, find one with activity on it and repeat steps 1 - 3.
7. Fire Suppression
The S100 Basic Fire Suppression and Safety course's Student Workbook expands and details fire suppression tactics and procedures. [ 15 ] We recommend that you obtain a copy of the workbook, which is available for purchase at the end of this course, and keep it available for reference.
Basic Fire Suppression Principles
The basic principles of wildland fire suppression are:
- Rapid initial attack;
- Aggressive action;
- Immediate and complete mop-up.
Upon arrival at the fire scene, the Incident Commander will perform a reconnaissance/fire assessment. This includes an initial assessment to identify safety concerns, determine appropriate suppression tactics for the fire situation and what firefighting resources will be needed.
Crew Safety Briefing
Crew Leaders will hold a pre-work safety meeting, and provide ongoing updates to ensure that firefighters stay informed.
Fire Attack Procedures
The fundamental technique used to effectively suppress a wildland fire is to attack it where it is most likely to escape. Utilize the fire triangle principles to attack the fire:
- Remove heat: cool the fire with water;
- Remove oxygen: cover the fire with soil or foam;
- Remove fuel: establish a fuel-free control line between the fire and the fuel, and ignite any unburned fuel between.
Control lines are required at all wildland fires and are a combination of constructed firelines and natural fire barriers such as rivers, lakes, swamps, roads, etc.
Constructing a Fireline
A firefighter's primary task is to construct firelines utilizing hand tools. A hand-constructed fireline's depth is always to the mineral soil and is not wider than an average of 30-60 cm (12-24").
Fireline construction techniques to remember:
- Always start from a safe and secure location, known as an anchor point;
- Keep the fireline short;
- Avoid sharp angles;
- Avoid constructing firelines through dense or heavy fuels (when possible, utilize open areas);
- Monitor daily wind direction shifts;
- Remove ladder fuels and fine fuels;
- Manage rolling debris.
Fire Attack Methods
There are three methods used to attack wildland fires:
- Direct attack is used on slow moving fires:
- Fireline is constructed immediately adjacent to the burning fuel;
- Islands of fuel near control line may be "burned off" to reduce the potential for spotting.
- Parallel attack is used on moderately spreading fires that are too hot for direct attack or the burnt area too irregular:
- Fireline is constructed as close to burning fuel as heat and flames allow;
- Unburned fuel between control line and fire is "burned out".
- Indirect attack is used on larger fires and only under the direct of a senior, experienced Incident Commander:
- Control line utilizes favourable terrain and natural features well in advance of fire (e.g.: several hundred m to several km);
- Backfire is ignited to halt the advancing wildfire.
Mop-up, which commences after a fire or any part of it is brought under control, is the act of reinforcing the control line by extinguishing smoldering fuel:
- Small fire: all smoldering fuel is extinguished inside the fireline;
- Large fire: all smoldering fuel is extinguished within a secure strip inside the fireline, the width which is determined by the Incident Commander.
Cold trailing is a mop-up technique used by firefighters to search for hotspots and determine if a fire is still burning. It involves carefully using a bare hand to feel for heat around burned material and the surrounding area, and digging out and extinguishing all smoldering fuel that is discovered.
Inspection and Patrol
After a wildfire is under control and mopped-up, the Incident Commander will instruct a certain number of firefighters to continue to patrol the control line to:
- Stop any escapes;
- Identify and put out any spot fires;
- Mop-up if any additional hotspots are discovered.
The inspection and patrol phase is extremely important and may continue for days or even weeks. It would be inexcusable to have a fire escape at this stage.
8. Ignition Operations Safety
Ignition is carried out by hand ignition, usually with a hand-held drip torch, or by aerial ignition using either a helitorch or an aerial ignition device.
Hand-held Drip Torch Safety
Only an experienced firefighter can operate a hand-held drip torch:
- Full PPE is mandatory;
- Be careful not to ignite clothing;
- Always maintain two escape routes and safety zones;
- Do not mix fuel, open or fill drip torch near hot embers, sparks or while smoking;
- Wear an organic vapour respirator when mixing and refueling;
- Use a mixture of gasoline and diesel (NEVER use straight gasoline);
- Fuel ratio varies:
- Increased amount of gasoline decreases flash point;
- Increased amount of diesel increases flash point.
- Recommended mixtures from S-235 Ignition Operations Student Manual (DO NOT confuse the ratios):
- 1 part gasoline to 3 parts diesel (volatile);
- 1 part gasoline to 4 parts diesel (less volatile);
- 1 part gasoline to 5 parts diesel (least volatile).
- Mix fuel, label with fuel type, ratio and date as per WHMIS standards.
General Ignition Safety
- Remain aware of your Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes and Safety Zones;
- Utilize a Lookout for ignition operations;
- Fire from a safe and secure Anchor Point;
- Follow the chain of command;
- Maintain the span of control;
- Keep a minimum 500 m separation between ground crews and aerial ignition operations;
- Wear appropriate PPE (mixing crews must wear additional specialized PPE);
- Ensure all excess fuels and combustibles are stored a minimum of 150 m away from the ignition area, up wind and downhill;
- Use suitable spill berms for storing and mixing ignition fuel, and ensure emergency spill kits and fuel handling procedures are in place;
- Never open or fill fuel containers near hot embers, sparks, or while smoking;
- Ensure that all hazardous materials are labeled to WHMIS standards and all Safety Data Sheets are available on-site;
- When handling and transporting Dangerous Goods, ensure that they are properly packaged, labeled, proper placards are in place and drivers have the required paperwork.
9. Hand Tools
Fireline Safety Rules
When firefighters work with hand tools on a fireline, they must:
- Stay with their crew leader and follow all of their instructions;
- Stay at least 3 m (10 ft) apart, in single file, when hiking into or out of a fire;
- Watch where they are walking;
- Carry hand tools on the downslope side when crossing a slope;
- Work at least 3 m (10 ft) apart when working with hand tools;
- Never walk or work within 2 tree lengths (or the flagged "no work zone", whichever is larger) of a danger tree;
- Never work below any heavy equipment or another crew;
- Shout out and warn their crew immediately if they see something unsafe happening;
- Raise the alarm if the fire jumps the line;
- Remain aware of their Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes and Safety Zones;
- Drink sufficient water and take regular breaks.
10. Fireline Heavy Equipment
Heavy Equipment Safety
Firefighters must be aware of the safety hazards associated with heavy equipment working on wildland fires and the safe work procedures to be observed at all times when working around them.
Heavy equipment safety hazards on the fireline include:
- Trees pushed by heavy equipment, destabilized trees and widow-makers can fall without warning;
- Trees and snags lying on the ground can swing suddenly when run over by heavy equipment;
- Pushed trees and rocks can slide or roll down slope quickly;
- Heavy equipment can roll or slide downhill very quickly.
Safe work procedures firefighters must follow at all times when working around heavy equipment include:
- Wear high visibility PPE (safety vest and hard hat);
- Never work downhill from heavy equipment;
- Always stay at least 2 tree lengths away from heavy equipment;
- Never approach heavy equipment without signaling operators from a safe distance and receiving their approval;
- Never ride on heavy equipment, only the operator is allowed on equipment.
Safe work procedures heavy equipment operators must follow when working on wildland fires include:
- Operators must be trained and qualified to operate the equipment;
- Always follow the safe work procedures for the piece of equipment being operated;
- Know your fireline construction objectives;
- Ensure there is a functioning 2-way radio in the equipment or work for a fireline supervisor who is carrying one;
- Both the equipment operator and adjacent firefighters must always know each other's location and exactly what each are achieving;
- Every piece of equipment must have a metal canopy and roll-over protection;
- Never leave equipment running without lowering the blade or head and applying the brakes;
- Operator shifts should not exceed 10 hours.
The following factors must be assessed and all be favourable before equipment is operated at night:
- Terrain has been assessed and is safe to operate in;
- There is a Lookout in place (if required);
- Equipment operator has Communications with their supervisor;
- Equipment operator and any others on site have at least 2 Escape Routes that lead to Safety Zones adequate for current and expected fire behaviour;
- There is a distinct advantage in using night time burning conditions over day time operations, burning conditions do not present any expected entrapment concerns and are such that night time heavy equipment use will be more effective;
- Objectives for equipment night operations are reasonable and achievable;
- The equipment is equipped with proper lighting for night time operations.