National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Fire Shelter Stigma


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. Being ready means more than just practicing deployments and having a fire shelter that is in ready condition. Being ready also means firefighters are mentally prepared to make the decision to deploy.

Firefighters have suffered burn injuries and severe smoke inhalation because they delayed fire shelter deployment due to apprehension.

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


The apprehension often relates to the stigma that comes with fire shelters.

Firefighters who have deployed fire shelter have described this apprehension:

  • 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, life-saving 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


Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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