Tony Petrilli, Project Leader
Firefighters are instructed to inspect their fire shelter when it is issued to them and periodically throughout the fire season (figure 1). Fire shelters do not have a specified shelf life; their serviceability depends on their condition. Many firefighters have asked for fire shelter inspection criteria that are easy to follow.
Reviews of fire shelter deployments have shown that a few firefighters deployed fire shelters that had been damaged through years of normal use. Periodic inspections throughout the fire season would have prevented these fire shelters from being deployed in life-threatening situations.
- To avoid carrying damaged fire shelters, firefighters should inspect their fire shelters regularly.
- The condition of shelters can be evaluated
based on wear of the protective PVC bag.
- The 1-page guide in this tech tip has all the information firefighters need to inspect fire shelters and determine whether to continue carrying them as they are, to rebag them, or to take them out of service.
What Happens to Fire Shelters When They Are Carried?
To determine what happens to shelters carried by firefighters, equipment specialists from Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) have inspected shelters and their polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bags. Some fire shelters that have been inspected appeared to have had little fireline use, while others showed extensive fireline use.
It was no surprise that inspections of these shelters revealed a correlation between the condition of a shelter and the wear shown on the PVC bag. Three signs in particular—a bag that had turned dark gray, holes in the bag, and water in the bag—pointed to excessive shelter wear.
A PVC bag turns dark gray when aluminum rubs off the shelter onto the PVC bag. The more aluminum that has been rubbed off, the more likely it is that the shelter may be damaged. Simply carrying a fire shelter over the course of a fire season could cause this kind of damage.
Holes in the PVC bag allow debris (ash, dirt, sand, or water) into the bag. Debris inside the bag abrades the shelter's outer layers. Large holes in the PVC bag or many small holes make it more likely that debris will damage the shelter.
A white film or dust on the aluminum foil is a sign of corrosion, indicating that water entered the PVC bag. A fire shelter with corrosion may be difficult to shake open during deployment. Water also may break down the bonds between the aluminum foil, silica, and fiberglass cloth (figure 2).
In some cases, the PVC bags had worn out, but the shelters inside were still serviceable. Two actions have been taken to address this issue:
- The blue nylon duck carrying cases and the hard
plastic liners are taller and the carrying case's cap is
more secure. The flap on the fire shelter sleeve of the
blue fireline pack is also more secure. These changes
reduce the wear and tear on shelters. The updated
fireline pack, carrying case, and plastic liner are
available through the GSA "Wildland Fire Equipment
- Fire Shelter Carrying Case, NSN: 8465-01-498-3190
- Fire Shelter Carrying Case Liner, NSN: 8465-01-498-3191
- Fireline Pack, NSN: 8465-01-503-4488
- Fireline Pack (Complete), NSN: 8465-01-503-4484
- Shelters that show evidence of moisture inside
the bag (water drops, condensation, or corrosion)
should be taken out of service.
- Shelters with so much aluminum rubbed off that
the paper label inside the bag is not readable
should be taken out of service.
- Shelters that have already been through the 2004 fire shelter recall, retrofit, and rebagging (label is marked with a red "R") or have been previously rebagged (yellow rebag label is inside the PVC bag) should not be rebagged a second time.
Rebagging can prolong the useful life of a fire shelter. Two fire shelter manufacturers and the one fire shelter PVC bag manufacturer can be used for rebagging fire shelters. Each local unit is responsible for making arrangements to have its fire shelters rebagged.
Each shelter must be assessed using the inspection guide before it is sent for rebagging. DO NOT REBAG FIRE SHELTERS THAT DO NOT MEET THE INSPECTION GUIDE CRITERIA FOR REBAGGING. If a fire shelter needs to be taken out of service, take it out! For more information about rebagging fire shelters, contact one of the following:
- Anchor Industries Inc. in Evansville, IN
Web site: http://www.anchorinc.com/
- Freedom Manufacturing LLC in Saratoga Springs, NY
Web site: http://www.freedommfg.com/
- Weckworth Manufacturing Inc. in Haysville, KS
Web site: http://www.weckworth.com
Gray on the inside surface
Use Out-of-Service Shelters for Fire Shelter Training
Fire shelters that are taken out of service should be marked and used for practice deployments. Training shelters, although excellent training tools, do not act exactly as a real fire shelter—tearing open the PVC bag, shaking it out, and being inside one can feel different than a real fire shelter.
- Clearly mark shelters "OUT OF SERVICE—FOR
TRAINING ONLY" (figure 3).
- Reminder: Firefighters should practice shelter deployments in a high-stress environment, with time
constraints, and in different positions (standing,
kneeling, and lying down).
- Important: NEVER practice shelter deployments in an actual fire—it's not worth the risk of injury.
Remember, inspect your fire shelter when it is issued to you and every couple of weeks during the fire season. Inspect your fire shelter if something out of the ordinary happens—for instance, if your fire shelter is submerged in water or exposed to a heavy rain storm, if your fire shelter falls from a truck or high shelf, or if your pack rolls down a hill.About the Authors
Tony Petrilli is an equipment specialist for the fire and aviation and safety and health programs at MTDC. He has a
bachelor's degree in education from Western Montana College. Petrilli began working for the Forest Service in 1982 and
joined MTDC full time in 2000. He has worked as a firefighter for the Lewis and Clark and Beaverhead National Forests and
as a smokejumper for the Northern Region. He is a division/group supervisor, type III incident commander, and has served
on more than 20 fire entrapment review or investigation teams.
Additional single copies of this document may be ordered from:
USDA Forest Service, Missoula Technology and Development Center
5785 Hwy. 10 West
Missoula, MT 59808–9361
For additional information about fire shelter inspections and rebagging direction, contact Tony Petrilli at MTDC:
Electronic copies of MTDC’s documents are available on the Internet at:
Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees can search a more complete collection of MTDC's documents, CDs, DVDs, and videos on their internal computer networks at: