Crew carrying supplies

A crew carries supplies and equipment before heading to a spike (temporary) camp

Personnel Involved in Fire Management

It takes many different types of people with a variety of skills to manage a fire. These include firefighters with diverse skills as well as people behind the scene that support the firefighters in their efforts.

Fire crews are the backbone of the fire suppression effort. Crews are differentiated between Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 crews based on experience, leadership and availability. Each crew is comprised of between 18-20 men and women. There is a crew boss and three squad bosses who supervise the actual work the crew does. Fire crews are on the frontlines using either direct or indirect suppression tactics in battling wildfires. For smaller fires, direct attack involves cutting fireline around the fire or putting out flames with water or soil. On larger or rapidly moving fires, indirect attack is used. This involves using natural firebreaks such as roads, trails or streams as the control line and removing the fuels between it and the fire by back burning.

Firefighting is hot, dirty work and crews are often in the field for long periods of time. Sometimes crews may sleep near the fireline, eat rations and are lucky to get a shower every couple of days. On large fires, burnout operations are often conducted at night when temperatures and winds are down and humidity is up. On large fires, crews often stay in fire camps where hot meals, showers, and sometimes laundry facilities, are available. Fire crews are available 24-hours per day, 7 days a week during the fire season, which typically lasts six months. Crews normally work a 14-day assignment and receive rest time of 2-4 days between assignments.

Interagency Hotshot Crews

The most experienced Type 1 crews are known as Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHCs). IHCs are diverse teams of career and temporary agency employees who uphold a tradition of excellence and have solid reputations as multi-skilled professional firefighters. Crews are employed by the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribal programs. Their physical fitness standards, training requirements, operation procedures are consistent nationwide, as outlined in the Interagency Hotshot Operations Guide. Core values of "duty, integrity, and respect" have earned Hotshot crews an excellent reputation throughout the United States and Canada as elite teams of professional wildland firefighters. Hotshot crews started in Southern California in the late 1940s on the Cleveland and Angeles National Forests. The name was in reference to being in the hottest part of fires.

National Park Service Hotshot Crews

The National Park Service established its Interagency Hotshot Crew program in May 1981 with the creation of three crews. These crews, the first hotshots ever funded by the Department of the Interior, were originally known as Arrowhead 1, 2 and 3 and they were stationed in Arizona, California and Wyoming. In 1982, the names of the crews changed to Alpine, Arrowhead and Bison, which reflect elements of the National Park Service emblem. In 1985, due to budget constraints, the Bison Hotshots was disbanded. Today the home unit of the Alpine Hotshots is in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The Arrowhead Hotshots are located in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California.

Hotshots are a national resource and they may be sent anywhere in the United States to assist with wildland fires (some crews have even traveled internationally to work in Mexico and Canada). The crews travel by truck, crew carriers or plane. To get to the more remote fire sites, crews either hike or are flown in by helicopter. Crew members pack all the water and supplies needed for work shifts that frequently exceed eight hours, and may be 12 hours or longer.

Hotshot crews have 20 members. Individual crew structure is, to some extent, based on local needs using the following standard positions. A typical crew would include one Superintendent, two Assistant Superintendents, two Squad or Module Leaders, and 15 skilled firefighters and crewmembers.

Like all line firefighters, Hotshot crewmembers must participate in physical fitness and conditioning programs and pass the Work Capacity Test at the arduous level. This level requires the individual to perform a three-mile hike with a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes.

Alpine and Arrowhead Hotshots

Alpine and Arrowhead Hotshots in 2010 on an assignment at Saguaro National Park in Arizona.

Wildland Fire Module

Interagency Wildland Fire Modules provide skilled and mobile personnel for wildfire or prescribed fire management. Modules are self-contained and range in size from 4 to 10 persons. They travel carrying all equipment needed to accomplish their mission. When the nation is in Preparedness Level 4 or 5, modules can be used to support the suppression effort.

Fire Module ignitions at Cowpens

Members of the Cumberland Gap Wildland Fire Module conducting ignitions at Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina.

Helitack Crew

Mesa Verde Helitack Crew

Mesa Verde National Park Helitack Crew.

Helitack crews are specially trained in the tactical and logistical use of helicopters for fire suppression. These crews can be rapidly deployed and are often the first to respond to a wildland fire. Helitack crews are also trained to "rappel" from a hovering helicopter in areas where the terrain or vegetation does not allow the helicopter to land. A primary job for the crew is to load and unload “slings” of equipment and supplies needed for firefighting.

Engine Crew

Engine crews are made up of 3–5 wildland firefighters. A typical wildland fire engine is a heavy-duty off road vehicle able to carry up to 800 gallons of water. Engines also carry foam to use on wildland fuels. The foam can also be used to protect the exterior walls of a structure. Engine crews are used for patrolling, in initial attack, in providing structure protection and for conducting mop up activities.

Using Foam at Wind Cave National Park

Using foam on prescribed fire at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Smokejumpers

Smokejumping was developed as a means of quickly reaching and providing initial attack on fires in remote, roadless areas. Smokejumpers are men and women who parachute into rough mountainous terrain to fight wildfires in inaccessible areas of the forests within the USA. This is an elite professional group, made up of people from all walks of life. Some are teachers, students, adventurists and graduates from fields such as agriculture, geology, forestry and others. Most of the jumpers are seasonal, so they come in April or June and stay until laid off in September.

There are several bases in the northwestern United States with a total of between 350–400 jumpers. They are split between the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The NPS has one smokejumper stationed in West Yellowstone, Montana. Although employed by different agencies and states, during busy years they work closely together throughout the Western United States, from New Mexico to Alaska. Smokejumpers are a national firefighting resource and occasionally used as a 20-person Type I Crew.

The primary mission of smokejumpers is firefighting! Smokejumpers may be delivered to a fire via parachute, helicopter, vehicles, or by foot. A typical jumper fire can vary in size and is usually located in mountainous terrain far from roads or easy access. Depending on the number and size of fires, 2 to 16 smokejumpers suit up quickly, load the airplane and fly to the fire. A "spotter" selects a safe jump spot, judges the wind and the jumpers exit, 2 at a time. After they parachute to the ground, cargo boxes are dropped with tools, food and equipment. The jumpers then become a crew working to control and mop-up the fire. Smokejumpers are expected to remain on the fire until it is declared out or the host unit makes the decision to release them. Once mop-up is completed or the jumpers are released, all the jump gear and equipment weighing roughly 100 pounds per person is then slung out via helicopter long line, packed out on mules, or carried out by the jumpers to the nearest road.

big blue parachute and smoke jumber in yellow suit

Smokejumper in flight. Photo courtesy of Jun Kinoshita, NPS.

Overhead

Most wildland fires and other emergencies in parks are managed under the Incident Command System (ICS). On small incidents this might only involve 3-5 people, while on large incidents this may include an Incident Management Team with thousands of personnel in addition to aircraft and heavy equipment. An incident commander (IC) always manages the incidents and makes decisions about how the incident is handled. Depending upon the size of the incident, other supervisors, unit leaders and command staff may be utilized. These people and those working for them are referred to as “Overhead” personnel. While crews and equipment are actively fighting the fire, overhead staff is busy ordering additional resources, providing logistical support such as food, showers, supplies and equipment, planning tomorrow’s actions, recording who and what equipment is assigned to the incident so they can be paid, maintaining equipment and ensuring adequate communications are available. Providing information to the media and public is an important part of every incident and is the responsibility of the Information Officer who works directly for the Incident Commander.