Northeast Fire Program
Northeast Region

Fire Safety

Firefighters at a wildlife at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge receive a fire engine safety briefing
Firefighters at a wildfire at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia receive a fire engine safety briefing
Credit: Jessica Bier/USFWS

Protecting the public and our firefighters is the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s top fire management priority!

Your safety and the safety of our firefighters is the number one consideration in any fire management operation, be it putting out a wildfire or lighting a controlled burn. Even the protection of endangered species is trumped by ensuring human safety. To promote safe fire operations, we only hire firefighters who are professionally trained to interagency wildland fire standards and who have levels of physical fitness and experience needed to do the job.

Firefighter Safety

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

You’ll notice the clothes that wildland firefighters wear are not like the turnout gear worn by municipal firefighters. Wildland firefighters often cover great distances over tough terrain when fighting a wildfire or lighting a prescribed fire, making heavy turnout gear impractical. Typical wildland firefighter gear includes the following:

  • Hardhat with burn-resistant shroud attached to protect neck and face
  • Goggles or other protective eyewear
  • Burn resistant shirt and pants or coveralls, often referred to by brand name “Nomex”
  • Leather gloves
  • Fire shelter ready to deploy in case of emergency.
  • T-shirts, socks, and undergarments with 100% cotton or other natural material
  • Leather boots with no steel toe, at least 8 inches high with lug sole

In addition, most firefighters carry a portable radio in a radio harness worn over the chest and fire-resistant backpacks to carry some firefighting and personal gear.

Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES)

Wildland firefighters operate safely by keeping lookouts, communication, escape routes, and safety zones, or LCES, in mind at all times.  If any of these factors are compromised, firefighters must adapt to mitigate them or change their tactics to ensure safe fire operations.  Firefighters are also aware of 10 standard fire orders and 18 watch out situations

Firefighter training a class stands in front of slide saying "unfamiliar with weather and local factors - why is this important?"

Firefighter Brett Gore from Wallkill River National Wildlife
Refuge leads a fire refresher session on watch out
situations. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS

Public Safety

We protect public safety by keeping the public informed about wildfire and controlled burn operations. Depending on the incident, this can be in the form of press releases, web sites, public meetings, door-to-door notification, community bulletin boards, or signs. Firefighters use the Incident Command System and work closely with other emergency management personnel to keep people informed if closures or evacuations are needed to protect public safety.

Safe Controlled Burns

We use controlled burns to eliminate excess live and dead plants in an area that make it more prone to wildfire. By reducing the vegetation, the risk of wildfire is reduced, making an area safer. But how can lighting fires be safe? A controlled burn is a carefully planned and executed event. Long before we strike a match, highly qualified fire teams complete a burn plan outlining the areas to be burned. They make fire breaks to prevent an escaped fire and carefully choose days when weather conditions help control the flames while still allowing an effective burn. Air temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and vegetation moisture must all be within safe limits. If the conditions are not right, the fire is not set! We will reschedule the burn for a better day or use other methods to improve the habitat. View a video on how we burn safely on National Wildlife Refuges.

For information on how controlled burns protect your safety, see Fire and You. For information on what to do if a controlled burn is in your area, see I See Smoke!

Last updated: February 27, 2013