Fire Assessment‎ > ‎

Safety Considerations

Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, Safety Zones (LCES)

From "LCES and Other Thoughts" by Paul Gleason

  • Lookout(s) or scouts (roving lookouts) need to be in a position where both the objective hazard and the firefighter (s) can be seen. Lookouts must be trained to observe the wildland fire environment and to recognize and anticipate wildland fire behavior changes. Each situation determines the number of lookouts that are needed. Because of terrain, cover and fire size one lookout is normally not sufficient. The whole idea is when the objective hazard becomes a danger the lookout relays the information to the firefighter so they can reposition to the safety zone. Actually, each firefighter has the authority to warn others when they notice an objective hazard which becomes a threat to safety.
  • Communication(s) is the vehicle which delivers the message to the firefighters, alerting of the approaching hazard. As is stated in current training, communications must be prompt and clear. Radios are limited and at some point the warning is delivered by word of mouth. Although more difficult, it is important to maintain promptness and clearness when communication is by word of mouth.
  • Escape Routes are the path the firefighter takes from their current locations, exposed to the danger, to an area free from danger. Notice that escape routes is used instead of escape route(s). Unlike the other components, there always must be more than one escape route available to the firefighter. Battlement Creek 1976 is a good example of why another route is needed between the firefighter's location and a safety zone. Escape routes are probably the most elusive component of LCES. Their effectiveness changes continuously. As the firefighter works along the fire perimeter, fatigue and spatial separation increases the time required to reach the safety zone. The most common escape route (or part of an escape route) is the fireline. On indirect or parallel fireline, situations become compounded. Unless safety zones have been identified ahead, as well as behind, firefighters retreat may not be possible.
  • Safety Zone(s) are locations where the threatened firefighter may find refuge from the danger. Unfortunately shelter deployment sites have been incorrectly called safety zones. Safety zones should be conceptualized and planned as a location where no shelter is needed. This does not intend for the firefighter to hesitate to deploy their shelter if needed, just if a shelter is deployed the location is not a tree safety zone. Fireline intensity and safety zone topographic location determine safety zone effectiveness.

10 Standard Fire Fighting Orders

  1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.
  2. Know what your fire is doing at all times.
  3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire.
  4. Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.
  5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger.
  6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
  7. Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces.
  8. Give clear instructions and insure they are understood.
  9. Maintain control of your forces at all times.
  10. Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.

18 Situations that Shout Watchout

  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.

Common Denominators of Entrapment, Injury or Fatality Fires

  1. On relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas on large fires. 
  2. In relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush. 
  3. When there is an unexpected shift in wind direction or in wind speed. 
  4. When fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill. 

Common Tactical Hazards

  • Building fireline downhill
  • Building undercut or mid-slope fireline
  • Building indirect fireline or unburned fuel is between you and the fire
  • Attempting frontal assault on the fire or you are delivered by aircraft to the top of the fire.
  • Establishing escape routes that are uphill or difficult to travel
  • Poor communication due to a rapidly emerging small fire or an isolated area of a large fire
  • Suppression resources are fatigued or inadequate
  • Assignment or escape route depends on aircraft support
  • Nighttime operations
  • Wildland Urban Interface operations
When selected tactics put firefighters in these positions or situations, a higher level of risk is involved.  Consider additional hazard controls that may be needed.

Operational Concerns in the Current Situation

Operational Strategy and Tactics

  • Direct, Indirect, or Frontal Attack?
  • Burnout or backfiring?
  • Holding and Patrol
  • Mop-up

Weather Events

  • Red Flag Warnings
  • Critical Fire Weather - Critical Winds, Thunderstorms
  • Drought

Safety Zone Size Estimation