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Fire Tech Tip
January 2011
5100 Fire
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Fire Shelter Inspection Guide and Rebag Direction

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.

Photo of a person holding a fireshelter.
Figure 1—Inspect your fire shelter regularly.


  • 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).

Close up photo of a deployed fireshelter. In the photo a person is holding up a patch of the outer layer of silica showing the inside layer of aluminum foil where there a hole cut through to the inside of the shelter.
Figure 2—Fire shelters have two layers—the outer layer is silica
laminated to aluminum foil, the inner layer is fiberglass
laminated to aluminum foil.

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:

  1. 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 Catalog":

    • 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

  2. Some shelters can be rebagged. Use the "Fire Shelter Inspection Guide" included in this tech tip to determine whether a shelter is serviceable for fire use, should be rebagged, or should be taken out of service. Some important items to remember are:

    • 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:

Fire Shelter Inspection Guide
Flow chart explaining the inspection criteria for a fireshelter including the correct actions if you answer "yes" or "no" to each question asked in the chart. In the diagram the text reads, Inspection Criteria, Yellow letters correspond to the photos on the back of this guide. At the start of the flow chart the text reads,  A Moisture in bag, if answer YES, OUT OF SERVICE, if answer NO, Evaluate PVC bag, B PVC bag clear, if answer YES, Evaluate holes, if answer NO, C PVC bag light to moderate gray, label readable, if answer YES, Evaluate holes, if answer NO, D PVC bag moderate to heavy gray, label unreadable, if answer YES, OUT OF SERVICE. Next in flow chart Evaluating holes, E zero to three holes less than one-half inch, if answer YES, RETURN TO SERVICE, if answer NO, F Red on white label, if answer YES, OUT OF SERVICE, if answer NO, G Yellow rebag label, if answer YES, OUT OF SERVICE, if answer NO, four to five holes less than one-half inch, if answer YES, REBAG POSSIBLE, if answer NO, H one to three holes, less than one inch, if answer YES, REBAG POSSIBLE, if answer NO, OUT OF SERVICE.

Shelter Condition

Gray on the inside surface
of the PVC bag (see C) is
caused by the aluminum
foil rubbing off.

  1. A moderate to heavy gray PVC bag (see D) indicates possible damage.

  2. Large holes or many small holes in the PVC bag indicate that debris may have entered.

  3. Shelters in condition 1 or 2 that were previously recalled
    (red "R" on white label, see F) or rebagged (yellow rebag
    label, see G) should be taken out of service.

Photo titled A. The photo shows a fireshelter with moisture in the bag. The photo has a detail close up of the water droplet and includes text that reads water droplet.

Photo titled B. Photo of a fireshelter that has a clear PVC bag.

Photo titled C. The photo shows a fireshelter with a PVC bag that is light to moderate gray but has a readable label. The photo includes text which reads readable label.

Photo titled D. The photo shows a fireshelter with a PVC bag that is moderate to heavy gray in color and the label is unreadable. In the photo there is text that reads unreadable label.

Photo titled E. The photo is of a fireshelter that has a small hole. The photo includes a detail of the small hole and text that reads small hole.

Photo titled F. Photo of a fireshelter that has a red "R" marking. The photo includes a detail of the red "R" and also has text which reads, "R" marking.

Photo titled G. The photo is of a fireshelter that has a yellow rebag label. In the photo there is text that reads, Yellow label.

Photo titled H. Photo of a fireshelter with large holes in the PVC bag. In the photo the text reads, Large holes.

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.

Photo of a fireshelter with writing on it reading, OUT OF SERVICE FOR TRAINING ONLY.
Figure 3—Mark fire shelters that are taken out of service to identify them as training
shelters for practice deployments.

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
Phone: 406–329–3978
Fax: 406–329–3719

For additional information about fire shelter inspections and rebagging direction, contact Tony Petrilli at MTDC:

Phone: 406–329–3965
Fax: 406–329–3719

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: