National Wildfire Coordinating Group

LCES – June 26, 1990


This Day in History is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity and is not intended to second guess or be judgmental of decisions and actions. Put yourself in the following situation as if you do not know the outcome. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?

The afternoon of June 26, 1990, as I knelt beside a dead Perryville firefighter, I made a promise to the best of my ability to help end the needless fatalities, and alleviate the near misses, by focusing on training and operations pertinent to these goals.” Paul Gleason from LCES and Other Thoughts published June 1991.

Note: Gleason had used Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES) with his crew, the Zig Zag Interagency Hot Shot Crew (IHC), for several years, but it was the Dude Fire fatalities that became the catalyst for LCES to hit the mainstream.

“LCES is just a re-focusing on the essential elements of the FIRE ORDERS. The systems view stresses the importance of the components working together. The LCES system is a result of analyzing fatalities and near misses for over 20 years of active fireline suppression duties. I believe that all firefighters should be given an interconnecting view of Lookout(s), Communications(s), Escape routes, and Safety zone(s).” ~ Paul Gleason

Gleason cites two types of hazards:

  • Subjective hazards are those which one has direct control over (e.g., condition of the equipment, choices and decisions).
  • Objective hazards are a natural part of the environment (e.g., lightning, fire-weakened timber, rolling rocks, entrapment). They cannot be eliminated, and one must either (1) not go into the environment where they exist, or (2) adhere to a procedure where safety from the hazard is assured.

Gleason suggested that LCES is the key to safe procedures in an environment of hazards and that LCES must be established AND communicated to ALL firefighters BEFORE it is needed.


Lookouts need to be in a position where both the objective hazard and the firefighters can be seen. Lookouts must be trained to observe the wildland fire environment and to recognize and anticipate changes in fire behavior. When the objective hazard becomes a danger, the lookout relays the information to the firefighters so they can reposition to the safety zone or a safer area.

  • What are the objective hazards that a Lookout is looking for?
  • What are the tools and skills that a good Lookout should possess?
  • Discuss how your crew can utilize a roving Lookout.


Communications is the vehicle which delivers the message to the firefighters, alerting them of the approaching hazard. Communication must be prompt and clear.

  • Radios are limited and it is vital to have at least one backup way to quickly communicate information. Identify some options that your crew/team can use as a backup.
  • Discuss how each person on your crew/team has a role and responsibility in recognizing and communicating hazards. 
  • Using Communication Responsibilities in the Incident Response Pocket Guide, (IRPG) PMS 461 (white section),discuss the five communication responsibilities of every firefighter. Identify how your crew/team will translate these ideas into action when working in the field.


Escape routes are the paths firefighters take from their current location, in which they are exposed to danger, to an area free from danger. Unlike the other components, there must always be more than one escape route available to the firefighter. With their effectiveness continually changing, escape routes are probably the most elusive component of LCES. As the firefighter works along the fire perimeter, fatigue and spatial separation increase the time required to reach the safety zone. On indirect or parallel firelines, situations become compounded. Unless escape routes have been identified ahead, as well as behind, a firefighter’s retreat may not be possible.

  • Using LCES in the IRPG (Operational Engagement section, green), discuss the qualities of effective escape routes.


Safety Zones are planned locations where firefighters may find refuge from danger and where no fire shelter is needed. Fire intensity and topography determine a safety zone’s effectiveness.

  • Activity: Using Safety Zones in the IRPG (Operational Engagement section, green), mark off a safety zone that would be effective for the area you are currently in or often work in. Being able to see just how big an effective safety zone should be can help us chose one quickly in the field.

    (FYI: The Safety Zone guidelines in the IRPG are for no-wind and no-slope conditions. Make necessary adjustments in size to reflect realistic slope and wind.)


This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2021

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