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The Inaja Fire of 1956 claimed the lives of 11 firefighters. These men were cut off from safety by the fast burning flames of a 43,000 acre chaparral fire in the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California. Those deaths brought the death toll due to firefighter entrapment to over 40 people in the years between 1939 and 1956. The chief of the United States Forest Service, Richard McArdle decided that something was amiss. Too many men (women firefighters were virtually unheard of in those days) were dying fighting wildfires. McArdle called for a task force to examine how wildfires were being fought, and how to better ensure the safety of the people fighting them. This task group produced the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders and also recommended the start of equipment research that led to fire shelters and flame resistant clothing. The task force also recommended that every person with fire control responsibility commit the 10 to memory.

In 1957 McArdle released the original Ten Standard Firefighting orders:

  • 1. Keep informed of FIRE WEATHER conditions and forecasts.
  • 2. Know what your FIRE is DOING at all times; observe personally, use scouts.
  • 3. Base all actions on current and expected BEHAVIOR of FIRE.
  • 4. Have ESCAPE ROUTES for everyone and make them known.
  • 5. Post a LOOKOUT when there is possible danger.
  • 6. Be ALERT, keep CALM, THINK clearly, ACT decisively.
  • 7. Maintain prompt COMMUNICATION with your crew, your boss, and adjoining forces.
  • 8. Give clear INSTRUCTIONS and be sure they are understood.
  • 9. Maintain CONTROL of your men at all times.
  • 10. Fight fire aggressively but provide for SAFETY first.
Every Forest Service employee who will have firefighting duties will learn these orders and follow each order when it applies to his assignment.
(s) R. E. McArdle,
Chief, Forest Service
June 28, 1957

Over the years, the orders were re-written to facilitate committing them to memory. These orders, combined with the 18 situations that shout Watch Out! are required to be memorized and understood by each wildland firefighter.

F Fight fire aggressively but provide for SAFETY FIRST.
I Initiate all action based on current and expected FIRE BEHAVIOR.
R Recognize current WEATHER CONDITIONS and obtain forecasts.
E Ensure INSTRUCTIONS are given and understood.

O Obtain current information on FIRE STATUS.
R Remain in COMMUNICATION with crew members, your supervisor, and adjoining forces.
E Establish LOOKOUTS in potentially hazardous situations.
R Retain CONTROL at all times.
S Stay ALERT, keep CALM, THINK clearly, ACT decisively.

Since the orders and the situations were established, fire fatalities have continued. Fighting wildland fires is dangerous, and neither fire behavior nor fire weather can be predicted with 100% accuracy. Each time a fatality or a shelter deployment (the use of fire shelters in a burnover situation) occurs there is an investigation that states the number of the 18 situations and 10 orders were violated. The official word in the fire service is "We don't bend 'em and we don't break 'em" (referring of course to the situations and orders), but firefighters on the line know that the rules are broken every day.

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