In the wildland fire environment where four basic safety hazards confront the firefighter – lightning, fire-weakened timber, rolling rocks, and entrapment by running fires – LCES is key to safe procedure for firefighters.
Together the elements of LCES form a safety system used by firefighters to protect themselves. This safety procedure is put in place before fighting the fire:
In operation, LCES functions sequentially. It’s a self-triggering mechanism: lookouts assess – and reassess – the fire environment and communicate to each firefighter threats to safety; firefighters use escape routes and move to safety zones.
All firefighters should be alert to changes in the fire environment and have the authority to initiate communication.
LCES is built on two basic guidelines:
Train lookouts to observe the wildland fire environment and to anticipate and recognize fire behavior changes.
Position lookouts where both the hazard and the firefighters can be seen. Terrain, cover, and fire size determine the number of lookouts needed; every firefighter has the authority and the responsibility to warn others of threats to safety.
Set up communications system - radio, voice, or both – by which the lookout warns firefighters promptly and clearly of approaching threat. It is paramount that every firefighter receive the correct message in a timely manner.
Establish at least two escape routes and make them known. (In the 1976 Battlement Creek Fire, three firefighters lost their lives after their only escape route was cut off by the advancing fire.)
Re-establish escape routes as their effectiveness decreases. (As firefighters work along the perimeter, fatigue and distance increase the time required to reach a safety zone.)
Establish safety zones - locations where the threatened firefighter may find adequate refuge from the danger. (Fireline intensity, air flow, and topographic location determine safety zone effectiveness. Shelter deployment sites have sometimes been termed, improperly andunfortunately, "safety zones". Safety zones should be planned as locations where no shelter will be needed. This does not imply that a shelter should not be deployed if needed, only that if there is a deployment, the safety zone location was not truly a safety zone.)
The LCES system approach to fireline safety is an outgrowth of my analysis of fatalities and near misses for over 20 years of active fireline suppression duties.
LCES simply focuses on the essential elements of the standard FIRE ORDERS. Its use should be automatic in fireline operations, and all firefighters should know the LCES interconnection.
Fire Ecologist for the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland.
Last updated 4 November 2014