National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Fire Shelter Deployment


Firefighters must never rely on fire shelters. Instead, they depend on well-defined and pre-located escape routes and safety zones. However, if the need for shelter deployment should ever arise, it is imperative that firefighters know how to deploy and use the fire shelter.

  • Do not think of your fire shelter as a tactical tool.
  • Recognize when deployment is your only option. When considering escape, remember that you can hold your breath for only about 15 seconds while running through flames or superheated air.
  • If time runs out while attempting to escape, get on the ground before the flame front arrives and finish deploying on the ground. Death is almost certain if the fire catches a person upright (the optimal survival zone with or without a shelter is within a foot of the ground). Once entrapped, the highest priority is to protect the lungs and airways.
  • When deploying, remove packs and place them away from the deployment area.
  • Even though deploying your shelter is a last resort, time is critical when entrapped. Play it safe – give yourself ample time to deploy. Failure to adequately anticipate the severity and timing of the burnover and failure to utilize the best location and proper deployment techniques contributed to the fatalities and injuries on the Thirty Mile Fire. Don’t let the cost of opening a shelter become a factor in your decision.
  • Before passing through superheated gases, try to close the front of your shroud. You can also take your shelter out of the plastic bag and use it as a heat shield to pass quickly through a hot area. If you use the shelter in this way, do not drop it or allow it to snag on brush. Remember that your lungs are still vulnerable.
  • If flames contact the shelter, the glass/foil fabric heats up more rapidly. If flame contact is prolonged, spots of aluminum foil can melt or tear away, reducing protection. Even if this happens, it is still safer inside the shelter. Your flame-resistant clothing becomes your backup protection. It is even more critical to keep your nose pressed to the ground and stay in your shelter.
  • Remember, direct contact with flames or hot gases is the biggest threat to your shelter. It is vital to deploy in a place that offers the least chance of such contact. The heavier the fuels, the bigger your fuel break should be.
  • Remember, once you commit yourself to the shelter, stay there. No matter how bad it gets inside, it is usually much worse outside. If you panic and leave the shelter, one breath of hot, toxic gases could damage your lungs. Suffocation may follow. In entrapment situations, most firefighters are killed because of heat-damaged airways and lungs, not external burns. Protect your airways and lungs at all costs by keeping your face close to the ground and staying in your shelter.

If your crew becomes entrapped, identify everything you and your crew/team are going to do to survive. Start your discussion using the Last Resort Survival in the Specific Hazards section (gray) of your  Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461.


Consider having a mock fire shelter deployment exercise in realistic terrain and fuels using practice shelters (no live fire). Assess the exercise using an After Action Review (AAR).

Also See: Fire Shelter Deployment Site Selection


Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022

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