A fire shelter is a vital piece of equipment that all wildland firefighters in the United States must carry with them while working out in the field. Composed of aluminized cloth which is laminated to fiberglass, it is a type of protective equipment that can serve as a portable refuge from flames and excessive smoke. A fire shelter is shaped like a half-cylinder that is rounded on both ends. While fire shelters can’t provide safety from continual, direct contact with flames, they can effectively trap breathable air and block radiant and convective heat when all other escape options have been exhausted. When deployed correctly, wildland fire shelters can and have helped save hundreds of lives in what would have been deadly situations. To learn about fire shelter deployment and how to do it right, continue reading.
When to deploy your fire shelter
When you’re supposed to deploy your fire shelter will depend largely on whether you’re a part of a crew or not. If you are part of a crew, then you must follow orders on when to deploy the shelter from your supervisor who will make the call.
In the case that you have become separated from your crew or you are not in a crew, then you must use your best judgment on when to deploy the shelter. In either case, the fire shelter should always be deployed as a last resort when access to escape routes or safety zones is blocked. Because fire shelters only offer around a 50 percent chance of survival, wildland firefighters should not rely on them as an alternative to well-defined, pre-located escape routes and safety zones.
Where to deploy your fire shelter
The site where you deploy your fire shelter can have a substantial impact on your safety and chance for survival. If you are part of a crew, the decision of where to deploy your fire shelter will also be left to your supervisor’s discretion.
If you are on your own and must make the call yourself, then it is best to select a deployment site that is free of fuels or has the least amount of fuel possible. If you are able to and have the time, try to clear the site of fuels such as brush, twigs, and leaves.
You should also avoid setting up your fire shelter in areas that funnel smoke, hot gases, and flames such as narrow draws, chimneys, or chutes. Ideally, the site should be cleared of mineral soil and be located on or near natural fire breaks such as creek beds, swampy areas, wet meadows, or rockslides with relatively even terrain. Other examples of suitable deployment sites for wildland fire shelters include level areas on slopes, ditches on the inside of a road that are free of fuel, road cuts, or areas on the lee side of ridgetops and knobs.
How to correctly deploy wildland fire shelters
Now that we have discussed when and where to deploy wildland fire shelters, it’s time to discuss how to deploy them correctly. Below, we will go through a step-by-step guide on how to properly deploy your shelter.
Step 1: discard packs and remove the shelter
Removing your shelter from its case is the obvious first step of successfully deploying your fire shelter. To do so, pull one of the red rings on the plastic bag down to the bottom and up on the other side of the bag.
Before starting the process of setting your fire shelter up, make sure to remove your packs and place them a safe distance away from your shelter site, along with any other spare combustible equipment such as fuses or gasoline. Doing so will prevent such combustible equipment from adding to the flame front’s heat. However, you should make sure to put on all personal protective equipment and collect your water bottle and radio before tossing your pack aside. You will need these items during the duration of your shelter’s deployment.
Step 2: clear the area (if you have time)
If you have the time, clear an area of four by eight feet or larger of fuels to minimize flame contact with the shelter. While clearing the area can increase your chances of survival, you should only do so if you have ample time. If you underestimate the amount of time it takes to deploy your shelter, your risk of death greatly increases.
Step 3: shake out the shelter
Next, shake out your folded fire shelter by grasping the shake handles which are marked “right hand” and “left hand” in black letters. Grasping the incorrect handle with the wrong hand may increase the amount of time it takes to deploy your shelter by a couple of seconds. While such a small amount of time may seem insignificant, every second counts in an emergency deployment situation. Once you have firmly grasped the handles in the correct hands, shake out the shelter. Upon doing so, it should unfold with the opening facing toward your body.
Step 4: get under the shelter
Now that your shelter is unfolded, place it on the ground and lay down inside of it with your feet facing the advancing fire where the shelter will be the hottest. You will want to keep your head and airway as far away as possible from such intense heat. Once you are inside, slip your arms up to your elbows through the hold-down straps which are sewn into the floor panels of the shelter.
Step 5: push out the tops and sides
The next step in proper fire shelter deployment is to push out the top and sides of the shelter away from you while you’re inside of it, making sure that the shelter is completely unfolded and that there aren’t any bunches. Doing so will allow the shelter to hold more cool air and create more distance between you and the sides of the shelter which can become extremely hot.
Step 6: hold the shelter down
Lastly, hold the fire shelter down using your hands, feet, elbows, and legs. Make sure to wear your fire gloves so that you can properly hold down your shelter without burning your hands on the hot material. While inside the shelter, maneuver yourself so that you are laying on your stomach with your nose and mouth on the ground where the air is coolest.
Upon completing these steps, you have successfully set up a fire shelter that may just end up saving your life in an emergency situation. If you are in need of a top-quality fire shelter or other essential wildland firefighting equipment, you can find everything you require at The Supply Cache. For more information regarding our wide array of wildland firefighting supplies, contact us today.