In 2020 there were almost 60,000 wildland fires that were responsible for destroying over 10 million acres of America’s forests and rangelands. Wildland firefighting is a dangerous and deadly profession not for the faint of heart.
If you are part of the wildland fire movement you need all the top-of-the-line equipment you can get your hands on. As any good wildland firefighter knows, having the right fire radios can make the difference between tactical success, and heavy human losses.
Read on to find out what else should be part of your essential fire checklist.
Basic Wildland Firefighting Equipment
When I was a Squad Leader I made sure that all of the members of my Squad had a few basic pieces of standard-issue equipment. The first is a solid pair of fire boots. These boots need to be up to NWCG standards.
Firefighters would pay for their boots but would be reimbursed by a boot stipend. Next, we would issue them fire-resistant long-sleeve Nomex shirts and pants. Each firefighter would also be given a helmet, tool, and fire shelter.
At this point, I would issue each of my Squad Members a fire-pack (called Line Gear) and they would fill it with important equipment. Our load-out is as follows:
- district map
- fiber tape
- pink flagging
- safety glasses
- incendiary devices
- radio (senior firefighters only)
- four canteens
- saw kit (for sawyers only)
- space blanket
- MRE (meal ready to eat)
After outfitting their Line Gear, each firefighter would also be given a Red Bag. This is also known as their two-week bag and it needs to have everything they require for a two-week assignment in the dirt.
This includes clothing and medication. The Red Bag would also contain the following standard issue equipment:
- sleeping bag
- sleeping pad
A Red Bag should not weigh more than 50 pounds while Line Gear needs to be under 30.
Anything more could hinder air operations by exceeding the maximum allowable payload in the event of ingress or egress with a helicopter.
The Basics of LCES
Every professional wildland firefighter knows the basics of L.C.E.S. While this acronym and strategy are a bit dated and debated by wildland firefighters in the field, it still holds water.
After all, the way for LCES was paid for in blood by all those who lost their lives to teach us lessons about firefighting the hard way.
L.C.E.S. stands for Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones. Let’s take a closer look at the L.C.E.S. strategy and what equipment you need to implement it successfully.
L stands for lookouts, which means that you should always have a lookout in place and eyes on the fire before engaging.
A lookout should be on a mountain top, ridge-line, or vantage point where they can see the entirety of the fire. From their vantage point, they should also be able to see all resources engaging the fire.
To complete these two objectives the lookout will need a variety of different pieces of equipment. The first is a good pair of binoculars that they can see changes in fire behavior with.
Binoculars allow them to observe resources in the field and identify hazards for them.
The lookout should be thinking about the big picture of fire engagement. They need to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and free from hazards. They are the eyes and ears of the firefighters on the ground.
For this, they will also need a good radio to maintain communications with both the incident commander, the crews engaged, and other essential resources.
The choice radio for all firefighters are King radios as they are tried and true in the field.
In addition to a radio and a pair of binoculars, a lookout will need a few other pieces of equipment. One is their standard fully outfitted fire pack and fire shelter.
This also includes full Nomex and a helmet. The other is a tool such as a Pulaski.
In addition to these basic pieces of equipment, a lookout will want a full belt-weather kit to take weather observations and a compass with a mirror to maintain situational awareness.
Communications is the cornerstone of a successful L.C.E.S. strategy. It means having the proper methods of communication in place before engaging.
Everyone needs to know the proper command and tactical channels and their unit designators as well.
This means that every firefighter at the Squad Leader level and above has wildland fire radios. It means knowing radio dead zones and having mitigation methods in place. This includes using mirror flashes as a backup and cellphones as needed.
Never rely on cellphones as most wildland fires are in remote backcountry areas with limited cell reception. When you have the luxury of being near a vehicle, you can use the mobile radio for increased radio reception.
This means knowing how you will safely disengage and egress from a fire in the event of a blow-up. Solid escape routes are hard to find but they usually involve traveling through burned-out areas or falling back with vehicles.
The most vital piece of equipment for establishing escape routes is flagging and glow-sticks (for night operations). Flagging a trail through the brush is your best bet. That way you won’t miss it during the heat of the moment.
This is your fallback point in the event of a blowup. Never engage a fire without a proper safety zone. I had the luxury of working in a forest where finding a safety zone up to the official standards was near impossible.
However, with the use of chainsaws and incendiary devices you could usually cut and burn out an area big enough to survive a burn-over if you were lucky.
Make sure to always have these vital pieces of equipment as well as a fire shelter with you at all times. Never engage a fire without proper safety zones and if you do, be aware of the danger you are in.
Outfit Your People Right
Giving your people the right equipment can give them the edge they need to complete their dangerous assignment. Wildland firefighting is tough enough on its own, let alone if you are supplied with poor equipment.
Settle for nothing less than Bendix King radios when it comes to your communication needs. They are fire-tested and true in the field. Contact us today for a quote on all your radio needs.
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