2020 proved to be a grim year for California wilderness.

In a record-breaking fire season, 4.2 million acres burned across the state. Since the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection started tracking complete burn statistics in 1950, this is the most burn acreage on record since the prior record of 2 million acres. 

With peak fire season expected to ramp up in July, wildland firefighters have quite the job ahead of them. Curious about the equipment required to fight massive California wildfires? Read on for our overview. 

Demands of the Job

Though wildfires are a natural and regular occurrence in the lifecycle of forests, grasslands, and prairies, most wildfires are actually manmade. These fires are a risk to communities as they approach civilization. As wildfires become more destructive, crews are forced to push themselves to their physical limits as they protect homes, businesses, historic structures, and private land. 

Most fires start by: 

  • Unattended campfires
  • Discarded cigarettes
  • Cars parked on improperly maintained shoulders
  • Road work in extreme friction and heat
  • Arson

Once they have been alerted to an emergent situation, firefighters are trained to safely evacuate people and animals from high-risk areas. Once the fire has begun to outpace preventative measures, crews work to contain the fires to restrict their front. 

Wildland Firefighter Equipment

Fighting a fire is a dirty job– one that requires a trusted pack of tools and protective gear to keep a firefighter protected from the elements. While firefighting is risky, proper use of equipment can help to eliminate personal injury. 

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is arguably the most important piece of a firefighter’s safety kit. Fire-resistant clothing and gear protect firefighters from injuries and hazardous objects. 

Modern PPE is made with fire-resistant material that can handle high heat and prevent burns. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is responsible for developing standards for: 

  • Layered coats and pants
  • Fire helmet
  • Removable knee pads
  • Leather boots
  • Leather gloves
  • Protective hood

Uniformed gear may vary due to the crew member’s specific job. Roles like smokejumping may require additional gear in order to protect the firefighter as they are exiting helicopters and landing in high-risk areas.  

Personal Gear Bags

Firefighters work through long, strenuous shifts– shifts that can bring even the most physically fit individual to exhaustion. To sustain themselves in the elements, firefighters may carry a personal gear bag with water, rations, sunscreen, first aid kits, and utility knives. 

For backcountry firefighters who are anticipating long and unrelenting shifts, sleeping bags may be included in their personal packs. 

Pulaski Tool

A Pulaski Axe is a hand tool that combines an axe and an adze in the same head. Similar to an axe, an adze has an arched blade at right angles to the handle. Because both tools are used to cut and shape wood, they were naturally combined to create an efficient firefighting tool. 

The tool’s design allows firefighters to cut down trees using its four-and-a-half inch cutting edge, push through brush, and pull out roots using the adze end. 

The Pulaski Axe has been a national standard since the 1930s. Invented by Ed Pulaski, an assistant ranger with the United States Forest Service, the tool has been revered for its life-saving properties. 

McLeod Tool  

The McLeod tool (or rakehoe) is a two-sided blade used to rake fire lines and cut branches. It was created in 1905 as a combination of a rake with coarse tines and a flat sharpened hoe. Both ends sit at the top of a wooden stake. 

This tool is used in non-emergency situations as well. Due to the versatility of the design, crews will often use the McLeod to finish and maintain hiking trails and other recreational areas. 

Fire Shelters

A fire shelter is a single-use emergency safety device used by firefighters in extremely hazardous grassfire conditions. Under ideal circumstances, a fire shelter can:

  • Reflect radiant heat
  • Keep breathable air available in the shelter
  • Protection against spontaneous convective heat

When deployed, a fire shelter will create a mound shape that a firefighter can retreat to in order to get out of direct heat and toxic gases. Though lifesaving, fire shelters are not foolproof guards during extreme wildfire conditions. 

Wildland firefighters have used fire shelters since the late 1960s. Amazingly, they have saved a majority of firefighters when deployed. 

Respiratory Protection Gear

Wildfire smoke contains carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, and toxic gas. This gas can cause: 

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Decreased mental functioning
  • Severe respiratory damage 

To protect firefighters, crews may require self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) in burn territories. These heavy-duty packs provide an air supply to each firefighter and are secured by shoulder straps and a waist belt. 

Two-Way Radio

A two-way radio may be the difference between life and death for both a volunteer and career firefighter. Portable radios are an essential tool for strategic communications with one’s team, especially when communicating potential hazards. A two-way radio can help a firefighter to: 

  • Stay connected in areas without reception 
  • Monitor changing conditions 
  • Communicate urgent updates
  • Check in on weather conditions 
  • Locate crew members and camp

Radios are available in a variety of sizes and waterproof models. All two-way radios intended for wildland firefighting should be extremely durable, with batteries that can last beyond a single shift.

Remember– wildland firefighting is often a little bit of luck and a lot of intense strategy. Using the right two-way radio correctly may save lives and thousands of acres. 

Stay Informed

Communication between a firefighter and their team is an essential piece of wildland fire safety. A team should be able to depend on their tools and technology in the event of a fire emergency. 

For more information on essential equipment and how to get your hands on affordable portable radios, request a quote today