Firefighting is a hazardous occupation. Whether you are involved directly or indirectly, it will demand your highest physical and mental efficiency, and a sustained expenditure of energy. Therefore, you must take every precaution to prevent injury to yourself and others.
Since most of us won't be on the fire fight lines we'll skip the physical, aerobic and muscular fitness details, along with fatigue, work and rest standards. Heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration exhaustion, and fluid replacement, along with food and nutrition, are vital knowledge to fire fighters.
Then, for wildland fires, there are snakes, ticks, bees and other bad things, like possible polluted water sources, hence the need to carry your own water.
Some of the hazardous ATTITUDES in wildland fire situations which can apply to anyone, including the home owners, are:
- Anti-authority: disregard of procedures and directions
- Impulsive: act without adequate situation awareness
- Invulnerable: does not think about worse-case scenario
- Macho: overconfident, takes on difficult tasks for admiration
- Resigned: lets event occur without taking actions
Those not properly dressed and equipped have no business being in the area of a fire. Obviously, if you are the homeowner you may be caught there by circumstances, so follow the fire fighters instructions. Those professionals use flame resistant shirts and trousers (typically Nomex and Kevlar). Synthetic materials will melt when heated and increase the liklihood of major injury; and two layers of clothing add protection, primarily cotton, which must cover the whole body, like long-sleeve tee shirt and long johns. While this seems too hot and uncomfortable it will "wick" the moisture and help cool the firefighters when on the fire line. The other stuff they use includes boots, helmet, gloves, goggles, hood or shroud, fire shelter and hearing protection.
Common denominators on fatality fires include:
- Most fires were innocent in appearance prior to flare up or blowups. In some cases tragedies occurred in the mop-up stage.
- Why? Not recognizing subtle changes in weather conditions or fire behavior.
- Flare ups generally occurred in deceptively light fuels
- Why? Underestimate of the extreme rates of spread possible in light fuels.
- Accidents occurred in chimneys, gullies, or on steep slopes
- Why? Fires run up steep slopes and canyons with surprising speed, as much as 3 times faster on steep slopes.
- Suppression tools such as helicopters or airtankers can adversely modify fire behavior. Winds created by wing vortex can change the wind conditions on the ground
- Why? A low pass by a helicopter or airtanker can cause the fire to flare up or spot across the fireline.