Retardant and Water Drop Safety

Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2020


Having retardant (jell, foam), paracargo, and water dropped on a fire is a routine event. However, there are risks associated with drops that can pose serious threats to personnel and equipment.  Consider the following for all drops:

  • Be aware of the location and flight patterns (final approach, drop zone, exit) of aircraft during drop operations.
  • Be sure you have positive contact with the pilot before the drop.
    • Clear all persons, vehicles, and animals from the danger zone prior to the arrival of the aircraft.
    • Beware of “streamers” or parachutes that don’t open.
  • Personnel can be injured by the impact of material dropped by aircraft. Clear personnel out of the target area before the drop is conducted. If an individual is caught unaware in a drop zone:
    • Hold your hand tool away from your body.
    • Lie face down with hardhat in place and head toward the oncoming aircraft.
    • Grasp something firm to prevent being carried or rolled about by dropped liquid.
    • Do not run unless escape is ensured.
    • Get clear of dead snags and tops.
    • Be aware of rolling debris below the drop site in steep terrain.  
  • Working in an area covered by retardant should be done with caution due to slippery surfaces.
  • If possible, wash the retardant off your skin to prevent irritation.


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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