Some of the first things a wildland firefighter are required to learn (actually memorize, because you don't really understand this until you personally get on a fire) are the 10 standard fire fighting orders and the 18 situations that shout Watch Out!. These are a set of rules, and a group of situations that firefighters are constantly to be aware of. Does it always happen? Hell NO. We lose firefighters every year, and almost always some of the orders were disobeyed and some of the situations were ignored. Wildfires are just too unpredictable and powerful to guarantee that those attempting to stop them will always be safe. These orders and situations have probably saved thousands of lives though, and I count mine among them.

The 18 situations that shout Watch Out were developed from studying common denominators in fires where someone was seriously injured or killed. These situations occur every day on the fireline, and they don't mean that the crew needs to stop and run, it simply means that notice needs to be taken, and crew safety should be double checked.

18 Situations that "Shout Watch Out!"

  • 1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
  • 2. In country not seen in daylight.
  • 3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
  • 4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
  • 5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics and hazards.
  • 6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
  • 7. No communication link with crew members or supervisor.
  • 8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
  • 9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
  • 10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
  • 11. Unburned fuel between you and fire.
  • 12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with someone who can.
  • 13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
  • 14. Weather becoming hotter and drier.
  • 15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
  • 16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
  • 17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
  • 18. Taking a nap near fireline.

Each major fire fatality, and there have been several this year, seems to feature one or more of these situations. Some firefighters think another situation should be added. Dale Longanecker, survivor of the South Canyon Fire Incident, concluded in his official statement to the Fire Investigation Team: "I would make another 'Situation that Shouts Watchout!': When you don't receive the resources that you need or are debating with the dispatcher about the resources that you need. (We) needed more of everything on this fire. Dispatch didn't want them to use retardant. (They) wouldn't give us more than one helicopter." Fourteen firefighters died on that fire. The 18 situations that shout Watch Out! are being reviewed.