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.

  1. "So, he's a recovering meth addict, but I figured the least I can do is let him watch my house while I'm out of the country."
  2. "After we've finished this drink, lets go play chicken on the freeway!"
  3. "I know it's raining outside - that's why we decided to bring the grill inside and have the barbeque in the house."
  4. "That Prince Mugabe who's been emailing me seems like such a nice guy. I'll give him whatever he needs, and the money I'll get is just a bonus."
  5. "Sure we'll invade Russia in the middle of winter!"
  6. "Well, I'm really horny, and that horse over there is looking better by the minute."
  7. "I don't know if the gas stove is on - I'll light a match to see."
  8. "This is going to need some serious cleaning. Pass me the bleach and ammonia, won't you?"
  9. "Well of course I'm not telling them I'm taking my gun onto the plane! I've got a concealed carry license, after all!"
  10. "That junk-yard dog may be frothing at the mouth, but he looks friendly enough to me. I think I'll pet him."
  11. "We'll build a great big bonfire in the middle of the forest, then get drunk and pass out! It'll be great!"
  12. "I let my kids play with my gun when it's loaded - it's important that they learn not to be afraid of them."
  13. "It looks like something's stuck in this plug socket. I'll just try reach in there and pull it out."
  14. "Yes I know he broke his last debtor's legs, but I really need some cocaine Now!"
  15. "So? You can still play Russian Roulette with an semi-automatic!"
  16. "I'm good to drive for the next four hours - I've already been awake for 48!"
  17. "So if I've pulled out this pin, I should throw the grenade, yeah?"
  18. "Quick, let's head into the armory for a smoke - the drill sergeant won't catch us there."

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