Personal Protective Equipment
In order to conduct burns safely and effectively, it is essential that all of the personnel working around the fire wear the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and use the appropriate tools. The following videos cover equipment used for PPE and fireline tools.
Personal Protective Equipment Overview
There are many PPE options for landowners that vary significantly in cost and durability. What you choose will depend on your goals for burning and the resources available to you. Please see the following sections on PPE for more detailed information on specific safety items such as hard hats, goggles, flame resistant clothing, leather gloves, neck shrouds, and boots.
Protecting the Head on the Fireline
While working prescribed fire and wildfire events, you should protect the head from falling debris by wearing a hardhat. Keeping it on and secure atop the head can protect one from falling limbs that could come down both during a fire and afterwards in mop-up. Fires can weaken tree structures making limbs and snags more likely to fall. Keeping a hardhat on can ensure your safety as well as that of the other members of your crew.
Proper Eye-Protection on the Fireline
Goggles, like other PPE items, are a necessity when working around a fire. When worn correctly, goggles can protect your eyes from smoke exposure. Since fires can produce large quantities of smoke, wearing goggles can prevent eye irritation and sensitivity. Keeping your goggles on will help you stay alert and aware of surroundings when smoke plumes become thick in your vicinity.
Wearing Flame-Resistant Clothing: Pants
When conducting a burn, crew members must wear the appropriate attire. Fire can emit embers that can ignite on fabrics, so it is essential that flame-resistant clothing is worn. Refrain from wearing synthetic materials. Instead, choose to wear 100% cotton or Nomex, a flame-resistant material that pants, shirts, and neck shrouds are typically made from. For pants specifically, be sure to keep the original integrity of the garment by not cutting the pants in any way. Cutting the pants can cause fraying which will be more sensitive to flames and embers. Frayed fabric is more likely to catch fire. Also, ensure that your pants are of proper fit and length so that they fall over the boot.
Wearing Flame-Resistant Clothing: Shirts
Like other PPE clothing, shirts need to be made of flame-resistant material or of 100% cotton. Refrain from wearing synthetic materials. To correctly wear a shirt on the fireline, make sure that it is completely buttoned, comes around your wrist and neck, and is long-sleeved. Long-sleeved shirts help protect arms from floating embers that can be produced by a fire. Since both the shirt and pants are made of fire-resistant material and can hold in heat, it is essential that crew members stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the duration of the fire event. It is also important to note that fire-resistant and fire-proof have two different meanings. Although your clothing may be fire-resistant, it can still leave you susceptible to flames if you come into close proximity to fire for extended duration. Remember, fire-resistant is not the same as fire-proof.
Wearing Flame-Resistant Clothing: Neck Shroud
A neck shroud is an additional piece of personal protective equipment (PPE). Like other forms of PPE, a neck shroud is used to further protect you from exposure in the environment where a fire is being conducted. A neck shroud is fastened within the hardhat and falls down around the neck and hair protecting these areas from burning embers. The neck shroud is not intended to be worn continuously since it may inhibit the body’s ability to efficiently cool itself. The shroud is not an airway filter, and has only a limited ability to protect firefighters from smoke, ash, or other small particles.
Wearing Flame-Resistant Clothing: Leather Gloves
Leather gloves are an important piece of PPE that you want to make sure you wear when working on a burn. Gloves protect your hands from high heat and burning embers. Since working with hand tools and heavy equipment on a fire event is likely, gloves will protect you from getting blisters. Make sure that your gloves fit properly so you are not hindered from completing work tasks.
Wearing Flame-Resistant Equipment: Boots
Boots are an extremely important piece of PPE and must meet the specifications outlined. The boots you choose should be high quality, made of leather, have a minimum 6-inch top, a skid-resistant sole made of hard rubber, and have maximum traction. Since boots on a fire are exposed to high heat, it is important that they be made to prevent melting. You should wear two pairs of socks. Wearing an inner cotton liner and an outer wool sock can help prevent blisters on your feet. Since working on a fire keeps crew members on their feet for an extended amount of time, make sure your boots are broken in prior to use to ensure comfort.
A variety of tools are available for use on the fireline. Some, like shovels and garden rakes, are easily available to landowners, and many landowners may already own one. Others, like flappers, fire rakes, and McLeods are slightly more specialized for fireline use. Tool choice often depends on regional conditions and personal preference.
Fire Weather Tools and Monitoring
It is essential to monitor weather conditions before, during, and even after a prescribed burn. Fire weather forecasts are useful in understanding large-scale condition changes, while on-site weather tools give more detail about on-site conditions when used appropriately.
Leaf Blowers on the Fireline
Leaf blowers are a useful tool for preparing firelines and mopping up a prescribed burn. When using a leaf blower, be sure to blow all fuels into the burned area so no embers are spread outside the firelines into unburnt fuels. Remember to use other appropriate protective equipment as well, including eye and hearing protection.
When choosing a backpack sprayer for prescribed burns, be sure to choose the type that will work best for you. Backpack sprayers filled with water can weigh 45 pounds or more, so be sure crew members assigned to use them are physically able to do so.
Radio Use and Fireline Communication
Clear communication between crew members is key to holding a safe and effective burn. When using radios for fireline communications, be sure that all crew members understand how to use available radios. If you are purchasing radios for your crew, consider how and where you plan on using those radios and choose a type that will work best for you.
For PBAs or other groups, a burn trailer that holds the equipment needed for prescribed burning can be a way to keep that equipment clean, safe, and organized. If you are planning on maintain a burn trailer for you or your organization, consider not only the equipment you plan on storing in it, but the system you will use to allow members access to the trailer.
Chainsaws are commonly used to clear firelines and prepare sites for prescribed burning. When using a chainsaw for any purpose, be sure you understand how to operate your chainsaw safely and are wearing all necessary PPE. This article from the Association of Consulting Foresters and this video playlist from NC State Extension cover many important aspects of safe chainsaw operation.