18 Watch Out Situations, PMS 118

The 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and the 18 Watch Out Situations, as referenced in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461, provide wildland firefighters with a set of consistent best practices and a series of scenarios to be mindful of when responding to a wildland fire.

The 10 Standard Firefighting Orders are organized in a deliberate and sequential way to be implemented systematically and applied to all fire situations.

The 18 Watch Out Situations are more specific and cautionary, describing situations that expand the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders with the intent that if firefighters follow the Standard Firefighting Orders and are alerted to the 18 Watch Out Situations, much of the risk of firefighting can be reduced.

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1. Fire not scouted and sized up. A firefighter surrounded by green vegetation looks through binoculars in one direction. Far behind him is smoke from a wildland fire.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.

Wildland firefighters scout and size up all incidents to gain situational awareness before beginning fire suppression. This Watch Out shows a firefighter too far away to effectively describe the specific fire behavior, fuel types, and weather conditions on the fire.

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2. In country not seen in daylight. Three firefighters carrying tools walk in the dark. Their headlamps illuminate a large brush in front of them.

2. In country not seen in daylight.

Firefighting resources are often called to respond to fires at night in unfamiliar terrain. This Watch Out shows firefighters working at night in an area they are seeing for the first time which requires extra attention to surroundings and caution while working.

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3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified. Three firefighters walk in separate directions. Around them are standing black trees that have already burned and flames from trees still burning.

3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.

Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES) are a critical approach all wildland firefighters use to engage in fire suppression safely. This Watch Out depicts a crew without established escape routes or safety zones.

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4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior. Three firefighters examine weather instruments while standing in a wide open, grassy area. Large white clouds appear to grow in the distant sky.

4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.

Weather forecasts play a crucial role in the planning and suppression of all willdand and prescribed fire operations and activities. This Watch Out depicts firefighters acquiring weather information but seemingly unaware of the incoming storm clouds which would directly impact fire behavior.

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5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards. A fire is burning on a hillside. A white airtanker drops red retardant in the foreground, where no flames are visible.

5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.

Wildland firefighters rely on coordinated strategies and tactics to efficiently suppress fires and avoid hazards. This Watch Out demonstrates an airtanker dropping retardant away from the intended area, potentially indicating unclear communication.

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6. Instructions and assignments not clear. One firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite grasses on the right side of the image. Two firefighters spray water from a yellow fire engine onto burning grass on the left side of the image.

6. Instructions and assignments not clear.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is used to provide uniform chain of command on all incidents. This Watch Out shows an engine crew working in a counterproductive manner, without clear instructions towards an expected outcome.

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7. No communication link with crewmembers or supervisor. Firefighters and a white fire engine are all located apart from one another in a heavily timbered area, with trees and distance between them.

7. No communication link with crewmembers or supervisor.

Known radio frequencies and channels enable instant communication within and between firefighting resources. This Watch Out shows a crew physically separated without any obvious method for communication among crew members or their supervisor.

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8. Constructing line without safe anchor point. A red fire engine is located inside a burned area with flames all around it while a firefighter sprays water from a hose at some of the flames.

8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.

An anchor point is an advantageous location, usually a barrier to fire spread, from which to start constructing a fireline. This Watch Out depicts an engine crew working along the fire edge without a clear anchor point.

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9. Building fireline downhill with fire below. Three firefighters use tools to dig fireline down a steep slope covered in grass and brush. Large flames are below them as the fire burns uphill.

9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.

Building fireline downhill requires special attention to safety factors because of the potential for rapid uphill fire spread. This Watch Out depicts firefighters building fireline downhill without first mitigating the existing hazards.

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10. Attempting frontal assault on fire. Large, orange flames move towards a lone firefighter holding a shovel and standing in grass and brush.

10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.

It is safer to start firefighting where the activity is lesser or the fire is moving away from firefighters. This Watch Out shows a firefighter in a position where he would be unable to safely engage in fire suppression.

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11. Unburned fuel between you and fire. A yellow bulldozer leaves a fireline of dirt behind it. Thick brush is between the line and the fire.

11. Unburned fuel between you and fire.

Heavy equipment is often used to construct fireline to slow fire progression because it can build wider fireline at a faster rate. This Watch Out requires extra situational awareness because there is unburned fuel between the bulldozer and the main fire.

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12. Cannot see main fire; not in contact with someone who can. Several firefighters are digging on a fireline. Trees and rocks separate a single firefighter from the rest of the crew. The lone firefighter is near a water tank.

12. Cannot see main fire; not in contact with someone who can.

Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES) are the foundation to safe fire suppression actions. This Watch Out depicts a crew member working away from his crew without a radio or other form of communication to be alerted to sudden changes in weather or fire behavior.

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13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below. Several firefighters use tools to dig fireline up a steep hill. Above them, logs and trees are on fire.

13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.

Fires can move more quickly uphill. This Watch Out shows rolling logs and debris that are on fire and can ignite fuels below the crew building fireline.

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14. Weather becoming hotter and drier. Several firefighters are working near a fire that is growing. One sprays water on a small flame that is separate from the main fire which appears to be growing in size. The sun is shining brightly.

14. Weather becoming hotter and drier.

Hot temperatures and low relative humidity increase fire behavior. This Watch Out portrays a hot, dry afternoon with firefighters working to suppress a growing fire.

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15. Wind increases and/or changes direction. A yellow and white helicopter is hovering over the ground with a dark, stormy sky in the background. Wind blows a red and white windsock.

15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.

Wind can significantly impact the rate and direction of fire spread. This Watch Out shows how it can also have an impact on aviation fire resources, such as helicopters.

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16. Getting frequent spot fires across line. In tall, thick timber, a fire is actively burning on the left side of the road. On the right side, firefighters are spraying water and digging with tools on spot fires. Behind them, a green fire engine is driving on the road.

16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.

Spot fires occur when embers land on the unburned side of a fireline. This Watch Out depicts an engine crew attempting to contain several spot fires which are increasing in size while the main fire is also growing.

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17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult. Three firefighters carry heavy packs and chainsaws as they walk through an area with lots of rocks, downed trees and logs, timber, and standing dead trees.

17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.

Rocks, dead and down trees, heavy fuels, and steep terrain can make escape to safety zones slow and difficult. This Watch Out shows firefighters already weighed down by heavy fire gear and tools trying to walk through uneven terrain and heavy fuels.

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18. Taking a nap near fireline. A fire is burning on the left side. Four firefighters lie on the ground napping on the right side.

18. Taking a nap near fireline.

Managing fatigue during wildland fire suppression is important for firefighter health and safety. This Watch Out depicts fire behavior increasing while firefighters take a nap without a lookout.

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Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
2020-07-07