The Evolution of Wildland Firefighting

Amanda Delatorre |

The Evolution of Wildland Firefighting

Today, wildland firefighters implement highly specialized fire suppression and prevention tactics to help reduce the occurrence and damage incurred by wildfires. However, such advanced methods of wildland firefighting weren’t always in place. Since the first official wildland firefighters were employed in Yellowstone National Park in 1886, many aspects of the profession have changed and developed. Read this short overview to learn about the evolution of wildland firefighting.

Controlled Burns Began Being Intentionally Set

A significant milestone in the evolution of wildland firefighting is the implementation of controlled forest fires. For a long time, all wildland fires were immediately extinguished and viewed as destructive. In 1922, however, wildland firefighters began experimenting with prescribed burns.

By the 1960s, the total suppression policies began to change because of the emergence of ecological studies that suggested fire was essential for the new growth of many plants and tree species. While intentionally set forest fires weren’t widely implemented for most of the 20th century, controlled burns now play a critical role in improving plant and wildlife habitat and helping prevent uncontrollable wildfires from occurring.

Standard Fire Orders Were Implemented

To help improve the safety of firefighters and reduce fatalities, the US Forest Service issued several new standards in 1957. There were ten standards in total, all of which continue to serve as guidelines and recommendations for present-day wildland firefighters. Examples of the standards include staying informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts, posting lookouts when there is potential danger, and giving clear instructions.

Several decades later in 1993, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released additional standards for wildland firefighters. These new standards pertained to proper firefighting clothing and equipment to further protect the safety of wildland firefighters.

Advanced Technology and Equipment Improve Wildland Firefighting Efforts

Since wildland firefighting began, both technology and equipment used by firefighters have advanced greatly. Significant technological advancements include the application of infrared technologies and the utilization of high-tech management software, such as geographic information systems, tools for fire behavior modeling, satellite imagery, and real-time forecasts.

As for equipment, the development of fire-resistant wildland firefighter gear and clothing has vastly improved the safety of wildland firefighters. The invention and development of the modern fire shelter has also helped save the lives of numerous wildland firefighters in emergency situations.