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The New Generation Fire Shelter

During an Entrapment (continued)

In a prolonged entrapment or when flames contact the shelter, temperatures inside can rise to uncomfortable, even dangerous, levels. Your best chance for survival is to stay calm and breathe the layer of fresh air found at ground level. Take short, shallow breaths.

The new fire shelter has fewer pinholes than the old shelter. Even so, firelight passing through pinholes may appear to be hot coals or embers on your clothing. These openings do not reduce your protection. No matter how big a hole or tear your shelter may have, you are better off inside the shelter.

When the flame front hit, the shelter was unbearable. I cannot put in words what it was like. It was just totally unbearable. The only reason I didnít get up and get out was because I had enough sense to realize it was a lot worse on the outside.

Entrapment survivor

We need to emphasize that to people, that they may receive injuries, but their greatest hope is staying inside that shelter and protecting themselves, no matter what they hear, no matter what they see or feel, that they have to make just an absolute commitment to staying with that shelter if they want to go home.

Entrapment survivor

In longer entrapments, or when flames contact the shelter, the shelter material can be hot enough to burn you. This is why you should be wearing a hardhat, flame-resistant clothing, and gloves. Use your gloves to push the shelter material away from your body, maintaining a protective air gap. Shelter material is most likely to contact your feet, buttocks, head, elbows, and hands. It is best to gently shift the points of contact, especially around your feet and elbows, because prolonged contact will cause burns.

If flames contact the shelter, the outer fabric heats up rapidly. The adhesive may start to break down allowing the foil on the outside of the shelter to peel away and reducing the shelterís effectiveness. The inner layer of foil prevents gases produced by adhesive from getting inside the shelter. Stay in your shelter with your nose pressed to the ground. Your flame-resistant clothing will provide some protection.

When to Leave the Shelter

Entrapment survivor quote:  I think for a period of probably 3 to 5 minutes I was absolutely sure that this was it, that I was going to die in this, that I would not survive this. There was no question in my mind. It was just a matter of when…. [Then] I started to think about my family and I remember thinking I need to do everything that I possibly can to go home and see them. And so that—that really is what kept me in the shelter.

There is no fixed time to stay under your shelter. Donít move until the flame front has passed. A drop in noise, wind, and heat, and a change in the color of light passing through the shelter are tipoffs that itís safe to leave the shelter. Stay put until temperatures have cooled significantly or a supervisor tells you itís safe to come out. Leaving a shelter too soon can expose your lungs to superheated air or dense smoke. Typical entrapments have lasted from 10 to longer than 90 minutes. Entrapments donít last as long in light, flashy fuels as they do in dense, heavy fuels. Firefighters have died when they came out of their shelters too soon. Stay inside a little longer if you have any doubt about leaving the shelter.

When you leave your shelter, make sure that your supervisor knows the deployment occurred. Leave your shelter and other equipment in place if you can do so safely. A great deal can be learned from reviewing the circumstances of entrapments and the performance of protective equipment. Learning all we can from each shelter deployment can help us improve procedures and equipment for all firefighters.


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