Wildland Firefighting for the Structural Firefighter Part II

Firefighting in the wildland environment is tough for the structural firefighter, so what can you use that you already have?

As we discussed earlier, we don’t have the specialized equipment or gear in order to fight a wildfire like the Forest Service, but we can successfully control the incident using basic tactics and the benefit of high water flows. For instance, take the following scenario.

Situation

You are dispatched to a reported brush fire in a river bottom, which under normal circumstances is dry but filled with soft dirt and thick vegetation. It is often used by indigent people to set up tent cities due to it being secluded and away from the public view. Most often the cause of these fires is unattended camp fires. As you leave the station, you see a large plume of smoke and a helicopter circling around it.

You arrive to find a police officer pointing you back to an area at the end of a long path. The path appears to be soft dirt, but is narrow and stable enough to be able to move the large engine back into the bottoms. The fire is over a large area and is spreading rapidly in dry grass and light winds out of the south west. The driver puts the engine into pump gear and charges the booster reel, a 1″ rubber jacketed line about 300′ in length. You grab a pike pole while the other firefighter takes the nozzle and begins knocking the fire away from the road and extinguishes the materials you pull apart with your pike pole.

The nozzle man advances into the burned area in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading (direct attack) while you use the pike pole to pull burning materials away from the fire in and into the burned area. The nozzle man fogs his stream out to suppress a large area. The next engine company establishes a water supply using 5″ hose, and connects to a third arriving pumper for a relay operation. The booster lines are ordered to back out and the deck guns on two pumpers pinch the fire between the master streams and cut off it’s advance, then the booster reels move in to mop up.

The incident takes longer than anticipated, the ground has been used to dump tree stumps, and several are now hiding the fire within their stacks. A track hoe is called in to bury the stumps and clear the land.

Lessons Learned and Things to Remember

Weather patterns played a major role in fire spread, and coupled with late detection, allowed the fire to spread unchecked. Had the fire not been detected, it could possibly have taken over the whole area.

Knowing what the fire is doing and it’s direction of spread played a factor in the placement of equipment and eventually how it was contained. The deployment of master streams allowed the firefighting effort to extend past the reach of booster reels and used enough water to suppress the fire at a distance, reducing crew fatigue.

Radios allowed coordination of the master streams using spotters to guide them in, communication was key in the effort and a lot of information regarding fire spread and extinguishment progress was communicated back to incident commander.

This incident came to a successful conclusion because of communications and teamwork as well as the adaptability of the firefighters to use what was available to contain what could have become a large wildfire.