National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Noise Exposure Safety


Working in noisy environments presents daily safety challenges to wildland firefighters. Noise exposure research clearly indicates that accidents and injuries increase in noisy work environments. Additionally, did you know that hearing loss is permanent? The good news is it’s also preventable.

Those most at risk of excessive noise exposure include:

  • Sawyers/swampers
  • Heavy equipment operators
  • Helitack/helibase/airtanker base personnel 
  • Engine and pump operators
  • Masticator/chipper workers
  • Operators of weed whackers/leaf blowers/air compressors
  • Retardant mixing personnel

Noise exposure will cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Distraction
  • Miscommunication
  • Inability to hear warnings
  • Increased errors

Mitigation Techniques

  • When possible, stay as far away from the noise source as possible.
  • Limit the amount of time you are exposed to the noise.
  • Give your ears a break from the noise when possible; the quiet break will help conserve your hearing.
  • Always wear hearing protection making certain that:
    • Your hearing protection has a Noise Reduction Ratio (NRR) of at least 20 dBA (level of protection in decibels) which is listed on the package.
    • You know how to insert/use/maintain them.
    • Your ear plugs are clean.​
      • NOTE: dirty ear plugs are better than no ear plugs but grab some extras because they work better when changed often.
    • When not in use, keep your ear plugs somewhere safe and clear (preferably not your Nomex buttonhole).
6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively. On the left side of a split screen, four firefighters stand near a wildland fire, listening to a radio in the hands of one.  On the right side of the screen, a supervisory firefighter talks into a handheld radio.

6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.

Remaining alert, keeping calm, thinking clearly, and acting decisively are important components of decision-making on wildland fire incidents. This Standard Firefighting Order illustrates a supervisor providing direction and establishing leader's intent to help a crew working on a growing fire.

Read about all 10 Standard Firefighting Orders.

Discussion Questions

  • How can exposure to excessive noise reduce the firefighter’s ability to maintain good situational awareness and fulfill the 10 Standard Fire Orders?
    • Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
    • Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood.
    • Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.
  • Are you wearing hearing protection when you work in all noisy environments?
  • What are some solutions for a flight helmet that lets noise in because the ear cup doesn’t fit correctly?
  • When working with chainsaws, mowers, and weed whackers, etc., at home, how do you protect your hearing?


  1. Look at your ear plugs. If they’re dirty, get a new pair and a spare.
  2. Find out if your unit has a hearing conservation program and join it.
  3. Consider turning down your music just a little bit, especially when you listen with earbuds.


Firefighter Health & Safety
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

Have an idea or feedback?
Share it with the NWCG 6MFS Subcommittee.

Follow NWCG on Twitter  and Facebook