(This is a question I asked in one of the wildland groups, but thought I'd share with everyone...)
Can anyone explain to me why it seems the mid-west and east coasters have such a hard time wearing the proper wildland ppe on fires? I am forever seeing pitures of various levels of dress; from "full bunkers" all the way down to levis and t-shirt...... At the very least, WHERE IS YOUR SHELTER!!!! Now don't get me wrong, I see it on the west coast as well (however, not very often) and I understand that there are A LOT more volunteer dept's over there and most have little to no budget and some require members to buy their own gear. But come-on!!! We need to be safe out there. And please don't get me started on some structural dept's mind set reguarding wildland firefighting......GRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!

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In my county, there are diiferent mindsets regarding proper dress for grass/brush/woods fires. First, the fires we see are usually one to 50 acres in size, big for our area but insignificant compared to some of the ones they have in So. CA.

Departments in a more suburban setting issue standard structure PPE to all members. In the more rural areas, members are also issued wildland PPE. Up until a couple of years ago, my department's SOP was jeans, cotton work shirt, leather boots, gloves and fire hat. When we have the big "Y'all come" fires you see all kinds of dress, from full structure PPE to business casual dress.

A few years ago, on Easter Sunday we went to such an incident. One of the FFs up in the woods was a woman in her spring dress, wearing sandals and wielding a leaf rake.

Now, our collective approach is much more geared toward responder safety and folks without proper wildland PPE or the traditional jeans/workshirt garb (i.e. sneakers, dresses, structure PPE) do not enter the woods.

It's not perfection but we're a lot closer than we used to be.
In the area I'm from (Vermont, which most think is a county in New York) I know a lot of departments don't buy wildland PPE becuase they just don't have the calls to using them at. A lot of departments in this area only see a couple very small grass fires each year. My FD first issued head to toe wildland gear only after getting a federal grant. We have 30 to 40 grass/bursh/woods fire a year ranging in size from a few feet by a few feet up to about 10 to 15 acres. Nothing large at all if you look at other parts of the country but they will all happen in about a weeks time. When we call for mutial aid from other depts. guys show up in everything from shorts to full structeral PPE. Its a great help the ones wearing shorts sit and watch while the ones in structeral gear only work for a few minutes before needing a break.
Here in Wisconsin the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for wild land fires and the local fire departments are called in to protect structures and help with evacuations. The DNR has the crews with the proper PPE and they have the dozers and brush trucks and all the other proper tools for wild land fires. The few grass fires or hay bail fires we get called to are small enough we would never need a shelter. Our department did get a grant a couple years back and bought wild land gear and it has been used more for training drills in the summer than for wild land fire. I guess most departments and their finance boards look at it the same as any thing else they have to buy. If your tallest structure is a two story home you wouldn’t go out and spend a million dollars on a 100 foot ladder truck would you? Well if most of the wild land fires you are called out on you could stomp out with your boot its kind of tough to convince someone you need $1000 per member to get them gear they may never use but we should have just in case we need it. When we do get called in on the bigger fires and actually get into the woods its usually walking through the black looking for hot spots or driving roads on the flanks making sure the smaller finger fires or hot embers from the main fire don’t make it across a road.
Not wearing proper PPE on the fireground? Doesn't matter if it's a structure, a binfire or a wildfire. Get off of my fireground!

It's easy for us, our fire services are mostly statee-wide organisations, with state-wide SOP's that happen to be pretty similar from State to State too! (Mind you, having only six mainland States in a country the same size as continnetal USA - excluding Alaska - makes things a bit easier!) And in my FRS at least all volunteers start out by qualifying as wildfire firefighters so we all have the PPE.

But proper PPE? Now that varies from country to country. But I think that any structural PPE is too heavy/bulky to use in a wildfire situation - the work goes for too long and is too strenuous. (For those that have never done it, dragging hose in suburbia is a very different animal to dragging hose or using hand-tools in wildland. Very different.) Now for those people who insist on wearing shorts, t-shirts or as one poster mentioned, a dress!!! Have you never heard of radiant heat? That's the stuff that we don't want tgetting to bare skin. It hurts, it kills. Cover up or join the statistics.

PS. Shelters? Nope, we don't have them. Not part of our safety training. I don't know about our career wildland-only people, but there aren't many of them, we always outnumber them on the ground.


It's been a few years since I first posted this question and we STILL can't seem to get it right.

Last season (2012) we had several incidents here in Colorado that nearly killed a few firefighters. All because of improper PPE and no fire shelters.

PEOPLE!!!!   We need this to be a priority in our departments! I know our budgets are in the toilet, but fires DON'T CARE! Please keep on your upper management to provide proper training & PPE.

We're looking at yet another bad fire season this year. Please be safe out there and remember "LCES"  

I hear you. I agree with you.

I go west in the summer and do the same thing you do...but here at home in Texas the local departments fight wildfire from the trucks 99% of the time and never carry shelters. At least we're starting to wear wildland clothing, not bunker gear, when the ambient temperature is hot, but that's as far as we've gotten with the SOP's.

Perhaps a new statewide initiative led by the Texas Forest Service will finally change all that. Under the new statewide mutual aid rules firefighters may not staff mutual aid rigs outside of their home region unless they've had S130/190 and are carded.

Again, I agree we as a department need to gravitate toward the national standard.

Thanks for carrying the issue forward.

Ok... wildland firefighting brings about a completely different structure for operations, obviously.  But this also begs the question of tactics.  Typically you will see most departments responding to the scene and attacking  the fire in a rapid fashion because much of the east coast wildland is interspersed within residential communities and there is better access.  Unless an event is located on a mountain there is typically not base camps set up with federal funds- the fire gets attacked when spotted and extinguished quickly because it is readily accessible.

My department has what we call 'brush gear" which includes the pants, coat, gloves and a helmet with goggles, along with two "wildland interface" trucks but we have very limited volume of wildlands that could burn.  We also have ready access to all of the lands within our jurisdiction. 

PPE is required and worn but there are times when we do not necessarily know what we are going to (because of combined dispatch) so the standard to wear is our structural gear - and no we do not have any shelters

We wear ten inch logger boots that are nfpa rated.  Usually wildland overcoat and overpants are put on as it takes too long to change into wildland trousers and shirts.  Driver gloves and a wildland helmet are worn as well, every time we are paged for a wildland fire.  Our response area is 2400 square miles with only about 2000 people so most of the calls are for wildland.  We get a lot of mutual aid calls as well.  We carry shelters in the engines and not on out belts per dept policy.  when I fight fire for the state we carry shelters in on our line packs.  I actually like the way the canadians do it ie regard to fire shelters.  They dont use them.  Situationial awareness is key in their minds. 


First and formost have you done firefighting in the midwest and east coast to cast stones? I know this is going back a few years and you mention Colorado now, but do you truly understand the circumstances to make your claims? Do you understand the differences and circumstances involved overall?


I ask in a truly curious aspect. It can be easy to sit in the realm that one has a "comfort zone" in and cast judgement without truly understanding the circumstances. You seem to cast a wide accusation in your original post, followed up by this one, and yet, should look beyond your little world if you truly wish to understand before casting stones. Ric, you are going off of personal experiences here as well as perhaps more area specific stuff, but still cast a wide net.


I'm going to speak from my personal perspective without casting wide nets. Foremost I think you are out of line without understanding all aspects of things. I, and many others, come from a structural background and may be called upon to do wildland. In many circumstances the money is not there for wildland gear....what do we ask for...drop staffing for wildland gear or operate with structural gear? From my standpoint, I say work with structural gear. Shelters??? Sorry, haven't seen one and don't see too many wildland circumstances where we need to have them......again see point one in budget aspects.


Now, I will say we have had several wildland fires and can speak from personal experiences with one. We have had training in the very basics of wildland, but don't have enough incidents. We DO have wildland coveralls, but it depends how the call comes in too. In one incident we, a secondary station, was sent on a smoke showing call reported from the highway. (Backstory is there were two confirmed apartment fires that came in as wildland fires from callers seeing smoke and flame from the highway). Yeah we dressed out in structural turnouts.


Arriving on scene, we saw it was a wildland fire and made our access, we stayed in the black, used tools etc, etc. We called in other resources who ....now knowing it was a wildland fire, dressed out in wildland PPE. Fire was controlled and taken care of......no shelters deployed (if we even had them)...job well done. Grand scope of things, yeah not done by the wildland book, but the fire went out property saved, and situation controlled.


So when I see such a post as this, it helps to understand all the intricacies involved  before passing judgement. Budgets absolutely do have a stake and if it comes to keeping staffing as opposed to outfitting for wildland PPE....I'm choosing what we handle most, which tends to be structural. Training is fine and good and definately beneficial, but let's look at the bigger overall picture and have a good understanding of all areas if casting such a wide net as you did.

It is interesting to get the perspective from the midwest not having fought fire over yonder.  Not trying to start a fight but we go on a bunch of wildland stuff each year and maybe two or three structure fires.  We have bunker gear that is less than five years old, modern ISI airpacks and train hard for structure fires.  Our bunker gear cost a lot more than the wildland gear.  I know your post was not directed towards me and dont want to see confrontational, I guess everyone's situation is different.



Hi John,

  Let me start by saying "Thank You" for your service.

Now, let me answer your first question. No, I have not fought fire in the Mid-West or East Coast. However, I don't really have to. It isn't very hard to go online and find PLENTY of videos & pics of firefighters doing "The Job" wrong (both structural & wildland). Which makes me wonder if you truley understood the intent of my original post? I clearly stated that I understood the differences & circumstances.   

Am I casting stones? Absolutely NOT! Am I provoking thought about safety, training and proper PPE? YES I AM!!! I got your attention didn't I? I have been a structural firefighter w/ wildland responsibilities for 27 years now.  I have years of experience in dealing with budget, manning & equipment issues. I also do my homework. I learn from every incident I run, I read (and learn from) near miss & fatality fires, my face is always in a job related book or magazine, I attend seminars & hands-on training (of ALL areas of the fire service), then pass that information on so that others can learn from it as well.

Moving on... I took a moment to glance at your profile and I noticed you are a HAZMAT Tech. So let me ask you this... Would you want to provoke change if you saw evidence of firefighters (in numerous areas of the country) conducting HAZMAT "Technician" level operations using inappropriate actions, in non-rated PPE (or NO PPE) & using the wrong monitoring equipment? I would hope so. I also think you wouldn't accept "Being Lucky" as the norm each time you fought a structure fire or calculated a drug dose. Nor would I expect you to accept it as a mindset or attitude. "WE" dedicate hundreds of hours to the training and mastery of our craft. "WE" strive for and expect perfection in all we do. This should be no different. 

Structural PPE is not NFPA rated or designed for wildland firefighting. Nor will you get a manufacturer to provide a letter stating so. I say this because I have fought (and won) this battle with 2 separate structural (career) agencies who had a history of fighting wildland fires (grass/prairie/brush). Now don't get me wrong, "EACH" battle took about 3 years to complete. But the safety of my brothers will ALWAYS be worth the fight.

Finally, in response to your claim of me not looking beyond "My little world", being out of line & casting judgment.... My "World" includes fire service experience in 4 states, certifications to include; Fire Officer-2, Fire Instructor-2, Fire Inspector-3, Rescue Tech-2 (Rope/Collapse & Confined Space), HAZMAT (Tech/IC & Safety Officer), DoD (Adv Level Training) CBRN/WMD, Paramedic, Fire Investigator (w/ 5 yrs working exp), Swiftwater Rescue Tech (w/ PWC cert), Auto Extrication Specialist, Airport Firefighter, Wildland Task Force Leader, IC Type-4, Line Safety Officer & Shipboard firefighter. I have spent many years working on both engines and heavy rescues, with a few years working on a truck. And finally on the admin side, I've spent half my career managing EMS and Wildland programs. As well as being a major player in HAZMAT & Tech Rescue.

So before YOU pass judgment on me, keep in mind that my ONLY intent was to provoke a change (In mind set & practice). I never passed judgment on anyon; I only made factual (evidenced based) observations.       

I understand completely...

You said it yourself, you fight more wildland fires than structure fires. Soooo why not have the proper training and equipment to do the job safely? Right?!?!?!

Please keep in mind, unfortunately the odds are against you that "ONE DAY" somebody is going to get hurt (or worst) on a wildland fire! Can you live with the knowledge that it might have been prevented had something been done/changed earlier?

God I know that pushing from the bottom SUCKS! But it can (and has) been done........

Stay safe my brother!!!!!

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