What Is a Wildland Fire Shelter

Amanda Delatorre |

What Is a Wildland Fire Shelter

One of the most vital pieces of protective equipment that wildland firefighters carry with them on the job is a wildland fire shelter. In emergency situations, these shelters provide some protection from intense heat and smoke. When used properly in emergencies fire shelters can and do save lives. To learn more about what a wildland fire shelter is and when it’s appropriate to use, continue reading.

What a Wildland Fire Shelter Is

Essentially, a wildland fire shelter is a portable, rapidly deployable shelter that a wildland firefighter can jump into in extreme situations as a last resort for extra protection against radiant heat and smoke. This increases the firefighter’s chance of survival. Fire shelters are composed of an aluminized cloth laminated to fiberglass silica. Shaped like a half-cylinder with rounded ends, they closely resemble a burrito or large sleeping bag wrapped in tinfoil when viewed from above. 

When deployed correctly fire shelters can effectively trap breathable air and block radiant heat. However, they cannot provide wildland firefighters with safety from continued direct contact with flames. Because of their life-saving capabilities, all wildland firefighters in the United States must always carry a wildland fire shelter with them while on duty. 

When to Use a Wildland Fire Shelter

A wildland firefighter should only have to use a fire shelter in extreme situations once they’ve exhausted all other escape route and safety zone options. Even then, fire shelters require a working space to eliminate direct contact with flame (called convective heat) as they do not protect against prolonged direct flame contact. Distance needs to be maintained from large fuels. Rocks, boulders and scree can let in toxic, superheated air through the gaps between them. Grasses and small vegetation need to be cleared before getting inside. A direct quote from the USFS manual states why; “If you are in an entrapment, protect your lungs and airway at all costs. Most firefighters who perish in fires die from heat that damages their airway, not from external burns.”

These shelters have saved the lives of hundreds of wildland firefighters, however due to the relatively low survival rate when using wildland fire shelters, one should not use them as an alternative option to safe firefighting practices and procedures.

A History

The first known development of a fire shelter took place in Australia in the 1950’s. This cone-shaped design was adopted by the USFS in 1959 which later gave way to a longer and lower A-frame style shelter, intended to get the user on the ground in the prone position. This “old style” shelter was required in 1977 after 3 firefighters without shelters perished on the Battlement Creek Fire in Colorado. The current “New Generation Fire Shelter” was released in 2003 after extensive development throughout the 1990’s. As of this writing, the MTDC, NASA, and other US agencies have been cooperating as recently as 2017 on further improving the fire shelter design, though no timeline exists for an updated version.

The Supply Cache is committed to providing wildland firefighters with the essential equipment they need to stay safe and carry out their important duties. As such, we offer top-quality, new generation wildland fire shelters for sale. We also carry cases and practice fire shelters for training purposes. To learn more about our life-saving products, contact us today.