From Pulaskis to drones, this list of wildland firefighter gear should make it easier to equip your team with new and battled-tested solutions
It’s no secret that firefighting is a dangerous job, but it grows even more dangerous when the setting changes from cities with fire hydrants to forests far from civilization. Where structural firefighters deal with intense blazes that are generally confined to a single location, wildland firefighters have to keep pace with sprawling fires that are always on the move. They typically face lower temperatures, uneven terrain, irregular access to water and other environmental factors that make the work equally difficult.
To help meet those challenges, wildland fire gear balances freedom of movement with extreme heat protection. The items in their kits also ensure these firefighters are able to orient themselves, communicate with teammates to maintain situational awareness and manipulate the environment to fight fires effectively.
Need more resources for your department? Read The ultimate guide to firefighter gear is 2024.
Wildland fire clothing
Wildfire firefighter gear must strike a balance between insulating the user from extreme heat and burning, protecting them from the wilderness and maintaining freedom of movement. Clothes worn under wildland fire clothing should not contain synthetic materials such as nylon and rayon, as they can adhere to the skin at wildfire temperatures. Cotton and wool are generally preferable. As for external garments, here’s what wildland firefighters need:
Wildland fire shirts: Also known as brush shirts, these are generally made of fire-resistant (FR) materials such as Nomex or Kevlar. They’re brightly colored for visibility and contrast, have long sleeves and buttons and can be secured at the collar and wrists for maximum protection.
Fire pants: These pants made of high-strength FR material should have a loose fit and the ability to fasten around the ankles. They should also have several large velcro pockets to carry other wildfire gear and sport bright colors for visibility.
Overshirts and overpants: A second layer of fire protection can also keep firefighters warm during cold nights and at early morning line briefings. They sometimes sport high-visibility reflective stripes in addition to a bright color and feature additional pockets and holsters for wildfire gear.
Boots: Typical rubber firefighter boots can’t stand up to the rigors of fighting fires in the wilderness. Wildland firefighters instead wear lug-soled, leather boots stitched with FR threads. These boots have an eight to 10-inch rise to provide ankle support over long treks and prevent slipping.
Gloves: Wildland firefighters typically wear leather gloves to protect against heat, cuts and punctures. Some wear specialty gloves made of lighter, more comfortable FR materials.
Fire helmets: Wildfire helmets resemble hard hats used in construction. They’re made of durable fiberglass or other HR thermoplastics to protect the head from sparks and falling debris, even in extreme heat.
Goggles: To protect their eyes from heat, dirt, debris, ash, smoke and more, wildland firefighters wear anti-fog goggles with a hard-coated outer lens.
Wildland firefighting equipment
Wildland firefighter gear can change based on what firefighters expect to encounter that day. Although wildland firefighters can fulfill a wide variety of roles, their work often breaks down into two main categories: active fire response and post-fire maintenance. The first task demands wildland firefighting equipment to contain and eventually snuff a flame. The second uses tools common in forestry to clear away debris and repair damaged infrastructure.
Headlamp: A headlamp that attaches to the firefighter’s helmet is essential for night work.
Line pack: Most of what a wildland firefighter carries will go in or on their line pack. It should have a lot of carrying capacity, plus compartments for additional kit items. Many feature hip belts, harnesses and Y-straps to improve ergonomics, which are critical for long hours of use. Some also use Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) system attach points for easy kit adjustments.
Fire shelter: This small, quick-to-erect shelter works like a tent the firefighter can hide inside when they’re faced with an unavoidable wall of flames. It’s typically made of fiberglass and aluminum, extremely heat resistant and airtight to preserve just enough breathable air for the flames to pass.
Radio: Communication is critical in fire response, and radios need to stand up to the rigors of wildland firefighting. Look for radios with rechargeable, long-lasting batteries, rugged build quality and easy-to-use interfaces.
Water bottle or canteen: Prolonged exposure to the heat of a wildfire can present a very serious threat of dehydration for firefighters. Plastic water bottles are common, as are canteens made with tinplate exteriors and polyethylene or plastic interiors.
Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs): Wildland firefighting is noisy business; heavy machinery, chainsaws, falling trees, helicopters and water pumps can all reach dangerous decibel levels. Earplugs or earmuffs protect the firefighter’s hearing.
Flares: Also known as backfiring fuses or fusees, these are used to light backfires and other prescribed burns. They often light on a delay to prevent injuries and have extended handles to keep the wearer at a distance from the flame end.
Space blanket: A space blanket is a low-weight, low-bulk blanket made of a thin sheet of plastic coated with a metallic, heat-reflecting agent. It’s useful for keeping warm and dry during a sudden rainstorm.
Backpack pump: A backpack pump, or bladder bag, is a collapsible pack of high-strength nylon fabric with a hand-pumped sprayer. It typically carries around five gallons of water for firefighting.
Pulaski: This combination axe/adze has been standard-issue equipment since its invention in the early 20th century. It has a wood, plastic or fiberglass handle and a head of metal for constructing firebreaks.
First aid kit: Basic first aid supplies for wildland firefighting include lip protection, moleskin for foot blisters and pain medications.
Snacks: Firefighting is demanding work, and firefighters need nutrient-dense foods such as beef jerky and protein bars to refill their caloric gas tanks.
Handbooks: Reference materials on protocols, techniques, safety measures and more can prove critically helpful in the field.
Shovel: With long wooden handles (usually around three feet) and metal heads; shovels are used to dig, scrape, spread loose dirt over small flames and remove debris.
Chainsaws: Fires create an enormous amount of dead wood that has to be cleared away. Chainsaws are the most common way to cut through downed trees or fell dying ones.
Chainsaw chaps: Chainsaws are always dangerous to operate, but they become even more so when the user is standing on uneven ground. Chainsaw chaps worn over the top of brush pants can protect the firefighter by snagging and jamming the chainsaw before its blades can meet flesh.
Flagging tape: Wildland firefighters often use brightly colored tape to mark routes or delineate work areas.
GPS device: Knowing where the fire is, how to get there and how to get out are essential to fighting fires safely. Plus, real-time location data can make it easier to deploy additional support or rescue teams.
Drones: Drones are highly maneuverable and can view a fire from high above, providing real-time information about how it might spread. That view gives firefighters better information about how to respond. Drones can also be used to survey wildlands for a deeper understanding of fuel sources and where maintenance needs to be performed.
Body-worn cameras: Capturing on-scene conduct can turn it into vital training materials for trainees learning the ropes. Firefighters can also review body-worn camera footage when writing reports and when looking for ways to improve.
Gaining situational awareness with Axon
Low-tech solutions like colored tape and Pulaskis will always have a place in firefighting. But outfitting firefighters for maximum effectiveness and safety means investing in new tech. Axon’s technology was designed with emergency responders in mind, and we can help equip your squad with the tools they need. Axon Air, for example, can provide unprecedented situational awareness via real-time drone footage. Axon body-worn cameras can support that info with an on-the-ground perspective. The Axon Body 4 also includes GPS and bi-directional communications to ensure firefighters are always within reach of assistance. Click here to learn more about how Axon solutions support firefighter efforts.