Fire Shelter Stigma

Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2020


A primary objective of every operational fire plan is to keep firefighters out of entrapment situations. However, firefighters must always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters. But being ready means more than just practicing deployments and having a fire shelter that is in ready condition, it also means the firefighter must be mentally prepared to make the decision to deploy.

Firefighters have suffered burn injuries and severe smoke inhalation due to the apprehension which resulted in delaying the deployment of a fire shelter.

We train and practice how to deploy our fire shelters—so why do we hesitate to use them?


Stigma— Many firefighters, who have deployed fire shelters, mention an apprehension when it comes to making the decision to deploy a shelter. The apprehension often relates to the stigma that comes with fire shelters.

They have been quoted as saying –

  • “Somebody screwed up!”
  • “It’s not a real deployment”
  • “Here comes the investigation!”
  • “Am I in trouble?”
  • “They’re going to fire me!”
  • "Should I really pull this shelter out?"
  • "Am I overreacting?"


Deploying a shelter does not need to be an unquestionable last-second lifesaving event. If you feel your situation is uncertain and can be improved by deploying a shelter, use it.


The Fall 2011 edition of the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s Two More Chains addresses this issue.


“Forest officials and seasoned firefighters involved with this incident all made the point that firefighters must not be reluctant to use the fire shelter or be intimidated about using it. They all said that a stigma currently is associated with fire shelter deployment. We must work past that stigma. . . The decision to deploy is a positive decision.”

Nuttall Complex Fire Shelter Deployment Review, December 2004


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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