Fire Shelter Deployment

Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2020


Firefighters must never rely on fire shelters, but instead, 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 the firefighter knows how to deploy and use the shelter.

  • Don’t 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 off the ground. (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 incident. 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 take your shelter out of the plastic bag and use it for a heat shield to pass quickly through a hot area. If you use the shelter in this way, don't 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’s 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 spot that offers the least chance of such contact. The heavier the fuels, the bigger your fuel break needs to 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. Most firefighters were killed as a result of heat-damaged airways and lungs, not by 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).


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

Have an idea? Have feedback? Share it.

EMAIL | Facebook | URL:
MAIL: 6 Minutes for Safety Subcommittee • 3833 S. Development Ave • Boise, ID 83705 | FAX: 208-387-5378