Firefighter Travel

Airport security screening procedures will affect wildland firefighters every fire season. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulates the security screening of all passengers traveling on commercial and charter aircraft. The TSA has implemented security screening regulations and procedures that will affect firefighters. Airlines have also instituted baggage requirements that will affect travelers. All personnel should be aware of the regulations and procedures.

Save Time at Airport Security

The TSA has coordinated with the Forest Service in developing some screening procedures that will help save time at security checkpoints, ease processing for all wildland firefighters and avoid delays in airline departures.

Current TSA regulations prevent bringing many items on the plane in carry-on bags, but those same items can be carried in checked baggage. Such items include knives or razors of any kind, scissors, axes, handtools, and power tools such as chain saws or drills. Disposable razors and their cartridges are permitted.

Items not permitted

Some items that are not permitted on commercial or charter aircraft, either in carry-on bags or in checked baggage, include fusees, strike-anywhere matches, lighter fluid, and gasoline. The Department of Transportation has granted interagency exemptions for firefighters to carry some hazardous materials on aircraft under the operational control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, or the Department of the Interior. On such aircraft, firefighters could carry such items as fusees, bear-repellent spray and gasoline in chain saws, even though those items could NOT be carried on a commercial or charter aircraft.

The Forest Service has provided training information to the TSA, so that security screeners will be familiar with some of the equipment wildland firefighters carry when traveling to fires. Security screeners should be familiar with basic equipment carried by firefighters, including fire shelters.

Fire shelters

The TSA has asked that firefighters carrying fire shelters keep the shelter in either the yellow or blue fire shelter carrying case, or within the backpack pouch specifically designed to hold a fire shelter (figure 1). This practice should help screeners during processing and decrease the likelihood that they could damage the fire shelter during the security inspection.

Traveling Fire Shelters

Figure 1. Carry the fire shelter in either the blue fire shelter carrying case (left), or in a backpack pouch (right) specifically designed to hold a fire shelter.

Resource orders

Security screeners may also ask firefighters to verify their government identification or confirm resource orders sending them to the fire, when these materials are available. Having these documents readily available should help ensure efficient security screening.

Baggage weight

The last item of concern is the limitation on checked baggage imposed by individual airlines. Some airlines have instituted additional charges for bags weighing more than 50 pounds and for bags with a combined length, width, and height of more than 62 inches. Many full red bags (figure 2) would be over either the weight or the size limit. The baggage fees for bags that are too heavy or too big could be between $25 and $50 per bag. Airlines may demand payment at the gate, whether by government or personal credit card. Since these additional charges are imposed by individual airlines, the Forest Service has not been able to secure a waiver, clearance, or exemption of these requirements. If such an arrangement is reached, an additional advisory will be issued.

Firefighter Red Bag

Figure 2. Full red bags may exceed weight or size limits set by commercial airlines.

According to the National Interagency Mobilization Guide, all personnel traveling to fires, with the exception of smokejumpers, rappellers, and helicopter managers, are allowed to carry one frameless, soft pack not to exceed 45 pounds, and web gear or a briefcase (not both), not to exceed 20 pounds. If these limitations are followed, the 50-pound weight restriction will not be a problem. Smokejumpers, rappellers, and helicopter managers have higher baggage weight limits.

If the weight or size restrictions are a concern, you may want to carry a small duffel bag so you can repack your red bag before traveling. You may be able to meet the baggage requirements by shifting some items from your red bag to a second bag for the flight.