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Equipment and Tools

In one year, 50,000-60,000 wildfires will occur in the United States that the U.S. Forest Service must respond to. We need to be prepared with the best equipment, people and tools in order to attack, control and prevent these forest and grassland fires. Working together, firefighters with ground and air crews employ aviation technology in order to preserve and protect our forests, grasslands, and the communities that surround them. The use of various aviation technologies allows fire crews to put out these forest and grassland fires more safely, effectively and faster than ever before.


Aircraft & Engines

  • Helicopters rapidly transport crews, equipment, water, and fire retardants, especially in remote locations, to wildfires.

  • Airplanes transport crews, including smokejumpers, to fire locations, sometimes cross country. Airplanes can also be used to gather infrared imagery and transport large amounts of fire retardant.

  • Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) provide emergency support when more large airtankers are needed. These military C-130 planes have the ability to carry around 2,700-3,000 gallons of fire retardant to a fire location.

  • The U.S. Forest Service believes there is potential to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to support wildfires and other natural resource management activities.

  • Wildland fire engines of various types are used depending on the terrain and type of fire.


The Role Retardant Plays in Fire Suppression

Fire retardants are used to suppress, prevent and contain wildfires. When used to suppress the intensity and spread of a fire, firefighters can safely build the fireline, a gap in vegetation used as a barrier to slow the progress of fire. Fire retardants also reduce the danger of fire to ground crews and people living in the communities around wildfire outbreaks.

Fire retardants are used mostly in areas west of the Mississippi River and in Alaska, however they can be used in Southern and Eastern regions. They are dropped aerially usually in front of the fire path in order to slow the spread of a fire. It is most effective and used most often on the initial attack of a wildfire. Fire fighters use retardants when there is a direct threat from wildfire outbreak to life, valuable property, and critical natural resources.

Fire retardants are made from a water-based chemical that changes the way a wildfire burns. They are applied aerially by planes or helicopters or sprayed from engines on the ground. Long-term retardants provide fire-break protection for hours, days and even weeks after they are dropped on an area, helping suppress the spread of wildfire so that ground crews can extinguish the wildfire.


Wildland Firefighter's Personal Protective Equipment

Firefighters must be prepared with proper equipment, training, and protective wear before going to fight a wildfire.

Personal Protective Equipment includes fire resistant pants, a fire resistant shirt, a helmet, eye protection, gloves, leather boots and fire shelter.

Firefighters carry personal gear bags that contain water, rations, sleeping bag, and hand tools including a Pulaski, a shovel and a McLeod.

A Pulaski combines an ax and an adze in one head used to build firelines. It can be used to dig up soil and chop wood making it a very versatile tool.

A McLeod is another wildland firefighting tool that has a large hoe-like blade on one side and a tooth-like blade on the other. It is used for raking firelines with the teeth side and cutting branches and sod with the sharpened blade edge.

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