Does the Wildfire World have a Fire Shelter Problem?
A recent poll of over 750 active Wildland Firefighters says yes.
The one thing we should all agree on is that fire shelters have saved lives. We have all heard the stories and some of you may have actually popped a shelter yourself. A recent poll taken this week tells an interesting story however. Over 750 active wildland firefighters responded to a poll I put out precisely on this topic.
The poll was :
“If it was your choice to carry a fire shelter would you still carry one?”
Of the over 750 respondents, 41% said they would not carry a fire shelter.
On top of just the raw polling numbers I received several responses explaining their choices. We can’t assume everyone has the same reason for not wanting to carry a fire shelter so we must also take a look at the basis for their decision. What is clear is that even with all the current educational training the wildfire industry has, almost half of the employees don’t feel the need to carry one.
Here are a few of the responses I received :
This firefighter feels some assignments warrant the need for a shelter and some don’t. Perhaps they feel project work or mop-up days don’t require the need for shelters. The two arguments here are “will it get back in the pack?” and “we should train with the shelter weight all the time”.
This firefighter clearly has thought about it before. The weight of the fire shelter and the “perceived safety” aspect of the shelter seem to be the biggest con for them. However, they ultimately believe having it and not needing it is better than ditching it all together. They also make it known that this has come up at multiple fire shops they have been to. I too have heard the conversations on the fireline.
This firefighter feels fuel type matters when it comes to deciding when and where to carry a shelter. Clearly they feel safer in timber compared to grass sage components when it comes to potential burn-over threats.
This firefighter feels that if you dedicate enough time to training and have high situational awareness than there is no need for the shelter. It can be assumed that the thought here is you’ll recognize the threat before it comes upon you.
This firefighter responded from Alberta Canada. If you are unaware Canadian firefighters don’t carry fire shelters. They say “lots” of Canadian firefighters wish they did carry them. Again, the argument for training and SA are brought up for the reasons for not carrying a shelter. However, they would like the option.
This firefighter feels it’s a false sense of security. The notion that the shelter will just be a place to wait and get cooked seems to be the belief. This is joked about around the fire world. I’m sure a lot of us have heard the references to a baked potato.
This firefighter has a different view than these others. They were saved by their fire shelter in a 2016 deployment. Not only can they speak from real life experience, the point is made that frequent training with the shelter provided the reflexes needed to accurately and effectively deploy the shelter.
One of the more eye opening things was the further we got into someone’s career the less they felt the need to carry a shelter everyday. Think about that. Now, we can argue all day about when, where, and why. However, it is clear that the culture around “needing” the fire shelter is split. Discussions should be had but also how we train our people should be reevaluated. A full range of perspectives are out there on this topic.
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