When massive fires blaze across endless acres of open fields, canyons, and beautiful mountain sides, threatening our families, homes, and memories, it is Wildland Firefighters who answer the call. They risk their lives, put in long, gruelling hours in ceaseless heat, near real life danger everyday to ensure our safety and the wildlife around us. In this blog we hear from a firefighter first-hand to help us understand what it really means to be in Wildland, what gear they use while fighting the elements, and important tips for fire safety.
Wildland crews have various divisions. Heli-tac and air planes are those in the sky dropping water and retardant onto the fire below. Engine crews have smaller fire engines that fill from nearby lakes and streams and can come by roads or flat desert areas to bring massive amounts of water to the danger zone.
Harley is a Wildland Firefighter and a Lead Crew Member in the Type 1 IA -Initial Attack Team. This squad is based out of Salt Lake City and when they get called out, they are at the front lines, close to the fires. They require a substantial amount of controlled burning as well as a term he refers to as: "cutting in a line." This means that they reach a certain distance from where the crew anticipates the fire is going to head and dig a line a few inches deep into the ground, exposing fresh dirt. In doing this, they are establishing a literal line of defence in the ground. When the fire reaches this line, it is in the hopes that this stretch of new dirt will not only slow the flames but possibly extinguish a good portion as well. The less "fuel" the fire has to consume the better chance for other crews to arrive and help put it out.
First aid basics are a necessity. Ground crews are closer to the danger so the more skills they have, the better their chances of survival. Wildland firefighters need to have knowledge on the weather as well. Wind plays heavily into the fire's growth, direction, and speed. They even need to be able to recognize which clouds can be seen in the distance such as storm clouds. These clouds create gusty and erratic winds which push the fire farther from various directions. So they "spin weather" every hour to monitor for weather and wind trends in the area.
Fire crews are required to have certified packs and gear to take with them into the field but for his personal bag, he opts for the Outlaw ll Gear Slinger Pack. This is the bag he loads up and takes with him on their "buggies" which are the vehicles that bring the fire teams to their drop points. The Outlaw provides him with plenty of organization and room for his personal essentials which are important after a long season out away from his family.
- Spare change of greens (Wildland personal uniform)
- Belt (also used if injured and needs to be choppered out)
- Solar battery
- Charger cables
- 3 packs of AAA batteries
- Nasal spray
- Nail clippers
- Pocket knife
- Packets of Emergen-C
- Wet wipes
- Lighter fluid
- Spare boot laces
- Mio Energy
- MOLLE pouch
- Anti-itch ointment
- Ear Plugs
- Pulaski Tools
- First Aid Kit
- Large Med Kit pouch
- Torrent Insulated Water Bottle
Harley's Wildland pack is approved for the blistering temperatures he and his team have to face and is loaded with everything he needs for the 14 day tours. Here are the items he includes.
- 6 liters of water
- Guides of essentials/every day to do lists
- Sharpening file (sharpening Super Pulaski -cutting in lines)
- Belt weather kit (estimating wind speeds, probability of ignition, etc)
- Notepad (note keeping for fire and weather trends)
- Shroud -fire resistant
- Med kit
- Silky saw (hand saw)
- Fire Shelters
- Leather Gloves
- 9 Fresh batteries
- Bk Radio
- MRE (Meals Ready To Eat)
- Ear Protection
- Safety Glasses (Must be Yellow for Night Operations)
- Tick Removal
- Kestrel (Wind Reader)
- Flagging tape
- Fiber tape
Sometimes fire hazards can seem like a no-brainer. But most fires are caused by accidental carelessness or just simply not having the knowledge of how to be careful. Harley has offered some extremely useful tips and insights for just for this purpose.
- Secure your trailer loads and chains. Dragging chains against the road can create sparks and one spark is all it can take to light dry grass in an instant.
- Having car trouble? Need to pull over? Do your best to find an area that doesn't have dry grass. If you park your hot, overheated car over dry grass off to the side of the road after a long drive in the heat of the Summer, it's a recipe for disaster. This same rule applies for off-roading vehicles with high RPM's which means they get very hot quickly.
- If you're outdoor shooting, do not use exploding targets. These create sparks and these sparks can ignite dry areas quickly. Basically dry grass is enemy number one when it comes to sparks and fire hazards in general.
- Smoking is not only horrible for you but even worse for the environment. Countless fires have been started from smokers flicking their cigarette butts out of their car windows and landing into- you guessed it- dry grass.
- Fireworks are another big issue. We as Americans love watching stuff blow up. It's in our blood. So if you're one of those neighbors that has to put on a big show during firework season, keep in mind: Dry grass= bad. Stick closer to green grass if you're not able to light them in the street. Make sure there are no sparks or embers coming from what may seem to be a dead firework. Don't forget to clean up all remnants of your fireworks display at the end of the night.
For homeowners and property owners who worry about fires in their area here are some vital tips:
- Clean up smaller debris around the ground such as pine needles, leaves, small twigs, sage brush etc, which are fuel for fires and also prevent your beautiful trees from growing to their full potential.
- "Limb up" your trees. This means cutting limbs off your trees that are closer to the ground. Go only about a third of the way up to prevent fires from catching onto these limbs. But make sure to not cut too much higher to ensure the health of your tree. Any higher up and the tree has a hard time healing itself and may not be able to regrow healthy limbs later on.
- Clear out the dead standing and down trees. These dry trees are a huge hazard as they are more likely to catch fire than live trees. However, clearing out groups of live trees and bushes can be just as important. Groups of close together green trees seem like a good thing right? Unfortunately, like so many things in nature, only the strong will survive. These trees are all competing for the sunshine and nutrients to grow, sooner or later the week will die out. So clearing out the weak ones before this happens is important. Better to get them out now before they die and cause more danger to the lush healthy trees.
- Aspen trees do not burn as easily because they are so full of water and their limbs are generally much higher up on the tree itself. Having more aspen trees on your property may be a big plus if a fire comes near.
- Logs on the ground or downed rotting trees can smoulder for an extended period of time. When the winds pick up, these burning embers can be carried miles away, potentially create more fires.
The next time you see smoke in the distance, try to keep in mind the brave men and women out there risking their lives fighting these wildland fires. Do your best to do your part and implement these fire safety tips and hopefully we can prevent more terrible fires in the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tess is the Marketing Coordinator at 3V Gear and is always looking for the next adventure to take her lovable Rottweiler on. Her dream vacation is to visit Norway where her ancestors come from and hopefully live in Hawaii someday. She loves reading, writing, cross stitch, and playing video games. She is currently building a tiny home with her husband and plans to move in next summer. Nym, her 100 pound Rottweiler, will of course be moving in too.