Wildfire suppression equipment and personnel

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Wildfire suppression equipment and personnel is part of the science of fire fighting focusing on the use of specialized equipment, training and tactics to effectively control, surround and eventually extinguish a natural cover fire. There are several specially designed tools that through their function and user training, perform specialized tasks that are specific to natural cover firefighting. This is used together in conjunction with the general understanding of the behavior of fire to form a viable plan of attack.



PPE or personal protective equipment is generally standardized for a certain type of team or crew. Smokejumpers for example require more protective equipment because of their method of delivery into the fire. Ordinarily, all firefighters regardless of assignment, require durable fire recommended eight inch (203 mm) minimum boots, gloves, Nomex pants and shirt, a hard hat (sometimes full brim), Walkie-talkie, potable water, eye protection (goggles) and a fire shelter. [1] [2] [3]

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection. The hazards addressed by protective equipment include physical, electrical, heat, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate matter. Protective equipment may be worn for job-related occupational safety and health purposes, as well as for sports and other recreational activities. "Protective clothing" is applied to traditional categories of clothing, and "protective gear" applies to items such as pads, guards, shields, or masks, and others.

Boot type of footwear extending above the ankle joint

A boot is a type of footwear and not a specific type of shoe. Most boots mainly cover the foot and the ankle, while some also cover some part of the lower calf. Some boots extend up the leg, sometimes as far as the knee or even the hip. Most boots have a heel that is clearly distinguishable from the rest of the sole, even if the two are made of one piece. Traditionally made of leather or rubber, modern boots are made from a variety of materials. Boots are worn both for their functionality – protecting the foot and leg from water, extreme cold, mud or hazards or providing additional ankle support for strenuous activities with added traction requirements, or may have hobnails on their undersides to protect against wear and to get better grip; and for reasons of style and fashion.

Glove covering worn on the hand

A glove is a garment covering the whole hand. Gloves usually have separate sheaths or openings for each finger and the thumb.

In the U.S., a firefighter's credentials and level of training is shown on their red card. For example, a sawyer will have a feller rating on their red card designating the capacity size tree they have been trained to fell. A firefighter trained as an EMT may have this certification on their card. Classes under the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and management qualification standards under the Interagency Fire Program Management (IFPM) are generally shown as well. At a minimum, the passing of the pack test is displayed showing the individual is physically able to perform appropriate duties. [2] [4]

Emergency medical technician healthcare provider

Emergency medical technician (EMT), paramedic and ambulance technician are terms used in some countries to denote a health care provider of emergency medical services. EMTs are clinicians, trained to respond quickly to emergency situations regarding medical issues, traumatic injuries and accident scenes.

There are currently 2 wildland firefighter ratings. Firefighter Type 2, which is the basic firefighter qualification, and is required for most operational positions. The Firefighter Type 2 requires several introductory classes as well as a practical day in the field. The dispatch pneumonic for a Firefighter Type 2 is FFT2. The second rating is Firefighter Type 1. The Firefighter 1 rating requires advanced courses in wildland firefighting as well as acceptable performance as a FFT2. Firefighter Type 1 is considered to be a senior and seasoned wildland Firefighter. The dispatch pneumonic for Firefighter Type 1 is FFT1.

Hand crews

Typically, wildland firefighting organizations will use large handcrews of 20 or more people who travel in vehicles to the fire incident. Although these crews can vary above or below 20 firefighters, they are generally called twenty-man crews. The designations of these crews in the U.S., defined in large portion by training, are as follows:


Handcrews are diverse teams of career and temporary wildland firefighters. The crews typically consist of 18 - 20 men and women but can also contain 4 to 6 and 8 to 10. These crews have the responsibilities of constructing firelines – strips of land cleared of flammable materials and dug down to mineral soil. These lines are generally constructed around wildfires to control them. Another type of line handcrews create is saw line. This is line where all trees limbs are removed up to shoulder height and all small trees and brush is cut down. All the limbs and trees are then carried outside the line and scattered. These are also called ladder fuels that allow the fire to climb up into the canopies which makes controlling a fire much more difficult. Sawyers do the cutting and swampers do the moving of the debris. Depending on the size of the crew there can be between 1 and 5 swampers per sawyer. Other jobs include burn outs, gridding for spot fires, and mop up after the fire is controlled.

Crews [5]
Type I Interagency Hotshot Crew
Type II Initial Attack (IA) Crew
Type II Crew
Type III Crew (none currently in service)

Some personnel are organized into fast attack teams typically consisting of five to eight personnel. Similar to the larger crews, they travel by vehicle.


Smokejumpers are highly skilled firefighters specially trained in wildfire suppression tactics. They parachute into remote areas from aircraft to combat wildfires and are equipped to work in remote areas for extended periods of time with little logistical support.

Smokejumper firefighter who parachutes into remote areas to combat wildfires

A smokejumper is a wildland firefighter who parachutes into a remote area to combat wildfires.


Water drop from helicopter, NPS photo by Harlan Kredit. Water drop from helicopter.jpg
Water drop from helicopter, NPS photo by Harlan Kredit.

The use of helicopter-delivered fire resources varies by agency. Often, helitack crews perform duties similar to other initial attack crews. Two or three firefighters will be dispatched to a newly reported fire. Helitack crews are usually used for initial attack on fires that are difficult for other firefighters to access, or on extended fires that require aerial support in the form of water drops, cargo delivery, crew shuttling, or reconnaissance. A typical initial attack response by a helitack crew involves flying to the fire via helicopter and spending one to three days (although sometimes much longer) putting the fire out before hiking to the nearest road for pickup.

Helitack refers to "helicopter-delivered fire resources", and is the system of managing and using helicopters and their crews to perform aerial firefighting and other firefighting duties, primarily initial attack on wildfires. Helitack crews are used to attack a wildfire and gain early control of it, especially when inaccessibility would make it difficult or impossible for ground crews to respond in the same amount of time.


A highly effective way to fight wilderness fire when no roads are nearby is to have wildland firefighters rappel from a helicopter. These firefighters then take suppressive action on the fire or clear a safe landing zone to receive additional firefighters if the fire is too large. Rappellers usually carry 30 pounds of personal gear plus up to 300 pounds of fire gear which is lowered down to them from their helicopter. Rappelling heights can range from 30 feet (in tall, continuous brush) to 250 feet (in timber). When suppression is complete on rappel fires, ground transport is typically arranged to pick up the firefighters at the nearest road. These crews carry chainsaws, hand tools, radios, and can even have 75-US-gallon (280 L) water bags, known as blivets, flown in to help fight the fire. When not rappelling, the crew works as a helitack crew and can fly or hike to any regular fire.



Crew transport


When water is required to refill a fire engine, water delivery is vital. The typical water tender carries 1,200 US gallons (4,500 L) of water to support fire engines. In addition to supplying fire engines directly, tenders may fill water reservoirs for bucket-dropping helicopters when a lake or reservoir is not nearby.

Heavy equipment

Masticator, which chews through brush and small trees, on the Zaca Fire Masticator-usfs image.jpg
Masticator, which chews through brush and small trees, on the Zaca Fire

Heavy equipment's primary function of wildfire suppression is through the application of heavy construction style equipment to move large amounts or earth or remove vegetation. Fuel breaks, safety zones, firelines and access to areas that maybe previously were inaccessible may be made. Bulldozers and tractor plows are examples.

Air suppression

In addition to aircraft being used for deploying ground personnel, firefighting groups may utilize helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes specially equipped for use in aerial firefighting to douse areas that are inaccessible to vehicles with water and/or flame retardant chemicals.

Fixed-wing airplanes

Rotary-wing aircraft

Hand tools

Holding a Pulaski, a wildland firefighter from the Angeles National Forest responds to a fire in Altadena, California on July 9, 2006. WilliamCervera.jpg
Holding a Pulaski, a wildland firefighter from the Angeles National Forest responds to a fire in Altadena, California on July 9, 2006.

A number of tools are used in wildland firefighting. Some examples include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Helicopter bucket specialised bucket suspended on a cable carried by a helicopter to deliver water for aerial firefighting

A helicopter bucket is a specialised bucket suspended on a cable carried by a helicopter to deliver water for aerial firefighting. Each bucket has a release valve on the bottom which is controlled by the helicopter crew. When the helicopter is in position, the crew releases the water to extinguish or suppress the fire below. Each release of the water is referred to as a drop. The design of the buckets allows the helicopter to hover over a water source – such as a lake, river, pond, or tank – and lower the bucket into the water to refill it. This allows the helicopter crew to operate the bucket in remote locations without the need to return to a permanent operating base, reducing the time between successive drops.

Aerial firefighting Aerial service used to drop water or other liquids to combat wildfires.

Aerial firefighting is the use of aircraft and other aerial resources to combat wildfires. The types of aircraft used include fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Smokejumpers and rappellers are also classified as aerial firefighters, delivered to the fire by parachute from a variety of fixed-wing aircraft, or rappelling from helicopters. Chemicals used to fight fires may include water, water enhancers such as foams and gels, and specially formulated fire retardants such as Phos-Chek.

Firefighting jargon includes a diverse lexicon of both common and idiosyncratic terms. One problem that exists in trying to create a list such as this is that much of the terminology used by a particular department is specifically defined in their particular standing operating procedures, such that two departments may have completely different terms for the same thing. For example, depending on whom one asks, a safety team may be referred to as a standby, a RIT or RIG or RIC, or a FAST. Furthermore, a department may change a definition within its SOP, such that one year it may be RIT, and the next RIG or RIC.

This glossary of wildfire terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to wildfires and wildland firefighting. Except where noted, terms have largely been sourced from a 1998 Fireline Handbook transcribed for a Conflict 21 counter-terrorism studies website by the Air National Guard.

A fire retardant is a substance that is used to slow or stop the spread of fire or reduce its intensity. This is commonly accomplished by chemical reactions that reduce the flammability of fuels or delay their combustion. Fire retardants may also cool the fuel through physical action or endothermic chemical reactions. Fire retardants are available as powder, to be mixed with water, as fire-fighting foams and fire-retardant gels. Fire retardants are also available as coatings or sprays to be applied to an object.

Interagency hotshot crew

In the United States, an interagency hotshot crew (IHC), or simply hotshot crew, is an elite team of 20 wildland firefighters, the most highly trained in the country, which are prepared to battle the most serious fires nationwide. They meet and exceed the requirements of Type 1 firefighters in terms of their extensive training, high physical fitness standards, and ability to undertake difficult, dangerous, and stressful assignments. They often respond to large, high-priority fires and are trained and equipped to work in remote areas for extended periods of time with little logistical support.

Wildfire suppression firefighting tactics used to attack wildfires

Wildfire suppression is a range of firefighting tactics used to suppress wildfires. Firefighting efforts in wild land areas require different techniques, equipment, and training from the more familiar structure fire fighting found in populated areas. Working in conjunction with specially designed aerial firefighting aircraft, these wildfire-trained crews suppress flames, construct fire lines, and extinguish flames and areas of heat to protect resources and natural wilderness. Wildfire suppression also addresses the issues of the wildland-urban interface, where populated areas border with wild land areas.

National Interagency Fire Center

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho is the physical facility which is the home to the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC), and the National Multi-Agency Coordination group.

Wildland fire engine

A wildland fire engine is a fire engine specifically designed to assist in fighting wildfires by transporting firefighters to the scene and providing them with access to the fire, along with water or other equipment. Most commonly used by the United States Forest Service, there are multiple types of wildfire apparatus which are used in different scenarios. According to the National Fire Protection Association, if the apparatus will be used primarily for outdoor and wildland responses, then it is to be considered a wildland fire apparatus and must conform to NFPA 1906.

Wildland water tender

A wildland fire tender is a specialized vehicle capable of bringing water, foam, or dry chemicals to fire trucks in the field that are engaged on the fireline. These vehicles are specifically designed for fire fighting often with four-wheel drive, rugged suspension and high wheel clearance for mountainous dirt road conditions. According to the National Fire Protection Association, if the apparatus will be used primarily for outdoor and wildland responses, then it is to be considered a wildland fire apparatus and must conform to NFPA 1906.

National Wildfire Coordinating Group organization in the United States responsible for national interagency wildland fire operations

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) was formed in the United States as a result of the aftermath of a major wildfire season in 1970.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to firefighting:

The CAL FIRE Aviation Management Program is a branch of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Due to the frequency and severity of wildfires in California, the state has elected to establish its own aerial firefighting force rather than rely solely on national resources. The Aviation Management Program is based at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento, California.

Fire use module

A fire use module (FUM) is a 7–10 person team of firefighting personnel dedicated to planning, monitoring and starting fires. They may be deployed anywhere in the United States for resource benefits, prescribed fire and hazard fuel reduction projects.

Wildfire suppression in the United States has had a long and varied history. For most of the 20th century, any form of wildland fire, whether it was naturally caused or otherwise, was quickly suppressed for fear of uncontrollable and destructive conflagrations such as the Peshtigo Fire in 1871 and the Great Fire of 1910. In the 1960s, policies governing wildfire suppression changed due to ecological studies that recognized fire as a natural process necessary for new growth. Today, policies advocating complete fire suppression have been exchanged for those who encourage wildland fire use, or the allowing of fire to act as a tool, such as the case with controlled burns.

As of 2018, there are around 1,216,600 firefighters serving in 27,228 fire departments nationwide and responding to emergencies from 58,150 fire stations. Of those firefighters, 31% or 346,150 were career firefighters and 69% or 788,250 were volunteers.

Blackwater Fire of 1937 fire in Shoshone National Forest

On August 18, 1937, a lightning strike started the Blackwater Fire in Shoshone National Forest, approximately 35 miles (56 km) west of Cody, Wyoming, United States. Fifteen firefighters were killed by the forest fire when a dry weather front caused the winds to suddenly increase and change direction. The fire quickly spread into dense forest, creating spot fires that trapped some of the firefighters in a firestorm. Nine firefighters died during the fire and six more died shortly thereafter from severe burns and respiratory complications and another 38 firefighters were injured. It killed more professional wildland firefighters in the U.S. than any other in the 103 years between the Great Fire of 1910 and the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.

@fire International Disaster Response Germany Non-profit, non-governmental organization , under the motto "Firefighters help the world" international assistance in natural disasters, guaranteed.

@fire International Disaster Response Germany is a German non-profit, non-governmental civil protection organisation which assists during natural disasters. The organisation was founded in 2002 in Wallenhorst, Germany as a pro bono network of professional and volunteer firefighters. Since 2010 @fire is member of the UN-Organisation INSARAG.


  1. National Wildfire Coordinating Group (Jan 2006). "Incident Response Pocket Guide" (PMS #461; NFES #1077): i–101.
  2. 1 2 "IFPM Module". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  3. "NWCG Equipping Fire Apparatus for Use in the Wildland/Urban Interface". National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
  4. "NWCG Prescribed Burn Qualification Track". Minnesota DNR. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  5. "Minimum Crew Standards for Mobilization". NIFC GACC. Retrieved 2009-04-28.