Basic Fire Fighting Tools Used by Wildland Firefighters

Most Important Hand Equipment for Prescription and Forest Fires

Here is a list of the basic tools, instruments, and equipment issued to active firefighters and necessary to manage either a fire that is prescribed by a forest plan or a wildfire that is under suppression. Having each firefighter equipped with the appropriate hand tool and safety equipment along with a communication link and items for ​personal comfort under extremely hot conditions are very important.

 

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Wildland Firefighter Hand Tools

fire rake
Council fire rake. Amazon.com

Hand tools used by wildland firefighters are always determined by the assignment of that particular person. The numbers and kinds of hand tools used also depend on whether a fire is controlled or out of control and the initial or expected size. I only include the rake and flap, which are necessary under nearly all fire conditions.

A sturdy rake with large triangular cutting teeth is my favorite and called a council fire rake (buy from Amazon). This tool is designed for fire-line digging. The cutting heads are on a 12”- wide hoe-type frame. It generally consists of four mowing machine cutter blades riveted to a steel frame.

Another popular rake style is called the McLeod fire tool (buy from Amazon) and is another rake-and-hoe combination fire-line digging tool which is popular on mountainous and rocky terrain.

The fire flapper or swatter (buy from Amazon) is always very handy where there are spotting fires near brush and limited available water. They can be a bit heavy but are sturdy enough to do the job of beating and smothering out fires caused by airborne embers floating across the fire line.

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The Backfire Torch and Backpack Pump

fire_torch1.jpg
A Drip or Backfire Torch. Steve Nix

 A backfire torch (buy from Amazon) or drip torch is an essential piece of equipment used to control "fire with fire" when a forest management plan suggests a prescribed burn. ​​This "torch" actually drips a mixture of gas and diesel fuel onto a wick and creates fire on the inner-side of the protective firebreak and the planned burn area. It can also change the direction of an uncontrolled wildfire if used properly. 

This initial "dripped" fire is used used inside a containing firebreak to manage the fire's rate of spread and to widen the burned "black" area along the area next to the fire break. It does exactly the same thing on a wildfire and is necessary equipment to a wildland firefighter trying to control a fire. 

A 5-gallon backpack water pump is a nice bit of additional protection from spotting embers that cross the break and from burning snags and stumps near the fire line. However, it is very heavy, has to be frequently refilled and should only be used by a fit firefighter. This type of pump is best used, along with larger volume capacity pump sprayers, when you have ATV support along the fire breaks.

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Wearable Protection for Firefighters

firefighter hard hat
Wide brim hard hat. Amazon.com

Wearing protective gear is a requirement of most US and state fire protection agencies. Here are the three most important items and should be considered standard equipment on all controlled burns as well as wildfires. 

  • Wildland fire shirts and pants (buy from Amazon) - the shirt material should be of Nomex quality that has significant heat and flame resistance.
  • Full brim hard hat (buy from Amazon) - the hat should  have a shell constructed from high-density polyethylene.
  • Wildland firefighting gloves (buy from Amazon) - These gloves should have an extra sleeve length made of a fire retardant material.
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Fire Shelters for Wildland Firefighters

Fire shelter Pack. Terra Tech

Wildland firefighting is hard work and done in a high-risk environment. The United States Forest Service requires all of their firefighting employees and contractors to wear a protective tent called a fire shelter. Both firefighter and non-firefighter can become fatalities during an uncontrolled wildfire in just a few seconds and these "shelters" are not always effective when deployed incorrectly or near heavy fuels (see Yarnell  Fire).

The fire shelter was developed to become that last piece of equipment you choose to use when conditions and time make survival impossible during a wildfire. The United States still makes shelters mandatory for crews - Canada has discouraged fire shelters.

The new-generation M-2002 fire shelter provides increased protection from radiant and convective heat in wildland firefighter entrapment situations. It can be purchased at the Defense Logic Agency at https://dod.emall.dla.mil/

The complete set includes: Fire Shelter NSN 4240-01-498-3184; nylon duck carrying case NSN 8465-01-498-3190; carrying case plastic liner NSN 8465-01-498-3191. Deployed size: 86” long; 15-1/2” high; 31” wide. Forest Service Spec 5100-606. (NFES #0925)