The Different Wildland Watch Out Situations

Amanda Delatorre |

The Different Wildland Watch Out Situations

The creation of the 18 Watch Out Situations outlined in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461, came shortly after the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders. These 18 situations expand on the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders by outlining more specific and cautionary ways to prevent firefighter injuries and fatalities. They highlight a series of dangerous scenarios—such as situations that have often led to entrapments, injuries, or fatalities—that wildland firefighters should be mindful of while on the job. To keep wildland firefighters safe on the fire line and reduce significant risk factors, ensure that the entire crew has a firm understanding of and implements the 18 Watch Out Situations. For your reference, we have outlined the different wildland watch out situations below.

1: Fire Not Scouted and Sized up

To have a solid awareness of an emergency situation, a firefighter needs to scout and size up any incidents. They should do this before engaging in fire suppression tactics to avoid any unforeseen issues that they could have otherwise prevented. To properly scout and size up the situation regarding the fire behavior, fuel types involved, and weather conditions, the firefighter may need to move closer to the fire.

2: In Country Not Seen in Daylight

Fires don’t wait to burn until there is ample sunlight. As such, many wildland firefighters must respond to fires at night. Trying to manage a fire in uneven terrain when visibility is low poses a clear challenge. To avoid injury, entrapment, or death, a firefighter should pay extra close attention to their surroundings and exercise extreme caution when fighting fires at night in an environment they have never scouted during the day.

3: Safety Zones and Escape Routes Not Identified

The third Wildland Watch Out Situation is when a firefighter doesn’t have identified safety zones and escape routes. To avoid entrapment, one must establish escape routes or safety zones in extreme situations where a firefighter needs to flee an area. To identify these areas and routes, one must establish proper lookouts and communications during fire suppression activities.

4: Unfamiliar With Weather and Local Factors Influencing Fire Behavior

Weather often has a significant impact on fire behavior. For example, high wind speeds could change the direction of a forest fire on a dime. Thus, firefighters should carefully account for the weather forecast during the planning process before engaging in prescribed fire operations or fire suppression efforts.

5: Uninformed on Strategy, Tactics, and Hazards

To suppress fires efficiently and avoid potential hazards, wildland firefighters must communicate and coordinate their tactics and strategies with all other members of the crew. 

6: Instructions and Assignments Not Clear

As previously stated, all strategies and tactics must be uniform to respond effectively to emergencies. Thus, one must communicate all instructions and assignments clearly. To ensure that all incidents have a consistent chain of command, wildland firefighters should follow The Incident Command System (ICS).

7: No Communication Link Between Crew Members and Supervisors

While wildland firefighting, various situations may physically separate members of a crew. In such instances, it is essential to have a method of instant communication between crew members and their supervisors, such as radio frequencies and channels, to implement and receive clear instructions.

8: Constructing Line Without Safe Anchor Point

Firefighters should construct fire lines from an advantageous anchor point to reduce the potential that the fire will flank them. A safe anchor point is typically a type of barrier that will prevent the fire from spreading.

9: Building Line Downhill With Fire Below

Due to fire’s ability to spread quickly uphill, a firefighter must exercise caution if they must build the fire line downhill. Before building a fire line in a downhill direction, make sure to pay close attention to safety factors and mitigate all existing hazards as much as possible.

10: Attempting Frontal Assault on Fire

Attempting a frontal assault on a fire is a potentially dangerous tactic. Ideally, wildland firefighters should begin fighting a fire from an area where the fire is moving away from the firefighters or there is less fire activity. If you must engage in a frontal assault, make sure to implement the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders.

11: Unburned Fuel Between You and The Fire

Unburned fuel between the primary fire and any wildland firefighter equipment and personnel poses a safety risk. To prevent the fuel from catching fire and spreading to any heavy equipment that one needs to construct the fire line, make sure to remove any unburned fuel.

12: Cannot See Main Fire, Not in Contact With Anyone Who Can

The behavior of wildfires can change at any moment. As such, it is essential to have a visual of the primary fire or be in contact with someone on the crew who is in contact so that you can respond quickly to any changes and stay safe.

13: On a Hillside Where Rolling Material Can Ignite Fuel Below

As previously stated, fires have the potential to spread more swiftly uphill. As such, one must be mindful of any rolling material, such as logs or other debris, that has ignited and may spread the fire to other flammable materials below the crew on the fire line.

14: Weather Gets Hotter and Drier

Hot and dry weather can increase fire behavior and pose a greater threat to wildland firefighters.

15: Wind Increases and/or Changes Direction

Wind changes can significantly impact the direction and speed at which a wildfire spreads. Wind increases and changes can also affect aviation fire resources, such as helicopters or airplanes implemented by helitack crews or smokejumpers.

16: Getting Frequent Spot Fires Across Line

Spot fires refer to fires that result from flying sparks or embers that the primary fire emits. When these embers land on the unburned side of a fire line, they pose a serious safety and entrapment risk for wildland firefighters.

17: Terrain or Fuels Make Escape To Safety Zones Difficult

When heavy gear and equipment weigh down a firefighter, escaping quickly to safety zones can be difficult. Making a swift escape becomes even more challenging when they have to navigate rugged and steep terrain or fuel sources such as downed trees block the way. One must take such challenges into consideration when planning escape routes and tactics.

18: Taking a Nap Near Fire Line

Often, wildland firefighters must work extremely long, physically exhausting shifts. As such, they may get tired on the job. However, one must never take a nap or rest on the fire line unless they have a lookout.

The Supply Cache is highly committed to protecting the safety of the brave wildland firefighters who risk their lives to keep all of us safe. As such, we provide high-quality personal protective gear, exceptional brush gear, durable field instruments, and virtually any type of wildland firefighter gear and equipment you will need out on the fire line. To ensure that you and your crew have the supplies necessary to fight fires safely and effectively, shop the Supply Cache today.

Wildland Watch Out Situations