Region III Quarterly

Volume 2 - No. 4

October, 1940


By Clair V. Cooke,
Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Speed is essential in combatting forest fires, so foresters have developed an efficient fire detection and transportation system, which includes use of airplanes and parachutes for dropping men and supplies. Fire-line construction has lagged somewhat in the speeding up of the fire-suppression game. Machine for all-round use in the construction of fire lines has not proved practical everywhere. However, a new method in the use of old reliable hand tools has done much to speed up line construction in most types of forest, grass, and brush fires. This is known as the progressive, or one-lick method; one-lick, because the workers progress along the line without passing one another, each hitting one "lick" in a place with an axe, McLeod tool, shovel, or other tool. Upon more extensive use it was found that it often worked better to provide for the men hitting more than one lick in a place, hence the progressive method, which is now being taught in National Park Service fire schools.

In tests that have come to my attention this method has shown increased speed over the old sector method, and variations of the sector and other methods. Nearly the same kinds of tools are used so the question arises as to why this method is so much faster. The largest single saving of time probably is made by men not having to stop work while others pass them. Also, time is saved by men using the tools with which they are most familiar.

Perhaps a sample "lineup" will help. This lineup can be varied to suit the timber type, ground cover, and experience of men doing the work. For an average timber type a twenty-man crew foreman would work the men about ten feet apart in this order:

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Mopup crew, Pulaski tools, shovels and backpack pumps. Snag fellers, if needed. Line construction crews; McLeod tools and shovels. SawyersAxemen Line locator
(Clearing crew)

This accounts for twenty men and can be varied to suit the number of men and conditions. A straw boss would ordinarily be with each of the three divisions. The foreman would work back and forth along the line, keeping the line closed as much as practical, considering safety and the fact that each man should be kept busy. Some of the points mentioned against this method are: it is too strenuous; the lead men do most of the work, leaving the rear men to loaf; it takes a well-trained crew which you don't always have when using CCC youths.

It is admitted that a well worked out progressive method of attack sets a fast pace. This can be remedied by rest periods of five to ten minutes per hour. It will be found that the accomplishment will still exceed that of other methods, and that the men will be better satisfied to stop long enough to roll a smoke and enjoy it than they are when getting all of their rest on their feet while passing each other. Time is usually a vital element, especially then trying to beat the extreme burning period of midday or afternoon.

Good supervision by the foreman and strawbosses will keep the procession moving fast enough so there will be work for all. The foreman should keep a full view of the whole job and signal the lead to slow up or move ahead, as required. An efficient man on the rear helps a lot, especially with the inexperienced crew. If the rear line builder knows what the finished fire line should be, he can be used as a pace setter and each of the others instructed to keep the proper distance ahead of the man behind him. With each worker further instructed to tell the man ahead to get out of the way, the crew will usually get to swinging along and constructing a surprising amount of line. Sometimes less men per crew is the solution. If ten men will control the fire quickly, why take twenty?

Once the overhead understand this method, it probably can be used with a more inexperienced crew than is required for other systems. With the progressive method each man, as a rule, needs to be able to use only one tool. Even the least experienced man can do some good with a shovel or McLeod tool, while the inexperienced axemen may do practically no good, and in addition may be a menace to the safety of himself and others. As compared with the sector method, the progressive method has the advantage of not depending upon inexperienced individual workers to build and hold a section of line. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. If you have a chain of men building individual sections of line, one individual who is weak with a pulaski, or in fire knowledge, may lose his section and cause the loss of the entire line.

In some types it has been found useful to have extra tools with the crew so that changes can be made if the lineup as used in the start does not work to the best advantage. When a large variety of tools is needed it may be necessary to use one man as a tool carrier. A couple of extra shovels, axes or pulaskis will, as a rule, be sufficient to balance the tools with the ground cover encountered. Usually the foreman or strawbosses can accomplish this by carrying a tool of some kind in each hand and making changes when necessary.

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Date: 17-Nov-2005