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Individual Highlight

Forest Service Researchers Focus on Firefighter Safety

Photo of Firefighters exit area where safety zone sensors were deployed on fire in Nevada in 2014. Dan Jimenez, USDA Forest Service.Firefighters exit area where safety zone sensors were deployed on fire in Nevada in 2014. Dan Jimenez, USDA Forest Service.Snapshot : Wildland firefighters continue to be injured or killed in fire entrapments. Past entrapment data indicates that policy changes, work practices, and new technology can reduce entrapments. For the past six years, Forest Service scientists at the agency's Rocky Mountain Research Station have worked to develop new information on safety zones and escape routes that can help keep firefighters safe.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Butler, Bret W.  
Research Location : National - all lands
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 700


Analysis of firefighter entrapments over the past 90 years suggests that advances in understanding of fire, changes in fire management policy, and better firefighter work practices can save lives. Data over the past 30 years suggest that firefighter injury and deaths can be attributed almost uniformly to aircraft accidents, driving accidents, heart attacks, and fire entrapments. The term safety zone was first introduced into the official literature in 1957 in the aftermath of the Inaja Fire that killed 11 firefighters. Since then identification of safety zones has been an integral task for all wildland firefighters. The work that resulted in the current guidelines used officially in the U.S. is based on radiant heating, flat ground and no wind-conditions, which really are not practical for most high intensity fires. This project explored the impact of wind and slope on safety zone size and location. Ultimately, measurements, literature review, and simulations suggest that current guidelines should be modified to account for flame size, slope, and wind. The work has resulted in new understanding about how energy is released from fires and its implications to firefighter safety. In many cases when wind or slope influence fire behavior, the size of the safety zone must be increased significantly. The implications are that in some cases alternate fire management tactics will be needed to keep firefighters safe. Clearly, the answer is not complete and presents a need for additional scientific research.

Additional Resources

Publication(web site)

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Several USFS National Forests and Regions, USFS State & Private Forestry, and Fire & Aviation Management
  • Alaska Fire Service
  • Brigham Young University
  • DOD, Eglin Airforce Base
  • Joint Fire Science Program
  • University of Montana, National Center for Landscape Fire Analysis.

Program Areas