Gloveless Idiots

By Travis Dotson

Some people don’t like the picture at the top of this page. Here is part of an email we received:

“The current Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website home screen pictures three wildland firefighters working in the black with handtools. From my perspective they appear to be less than 10 feet apart and two of them aren’t wearing gloves. Have NWCG standards on Line Construction and PPE changed?  I always speak up on these type issues since this is a pending Condition Yellow 9 Line IWI.”

Here’s another one:

“Just sharing that the header picture strikes me wrong, unless you are trying to show a lesson to be learned….no gloves and using hand tools seems out of place, given that we teach people to use gloves and keep their sleeves rolled down — am I missing something?”

So let’s talk about the picture, or rather the practice the picture captures — wildland firefighters working without gloves on. First of all, let’s do some acceptance around the topic:

  1. It happens. This picture depicts reality. This is how work gets done, whether we want it to be done that way or not.
  2. This is a divisive topic.

Number 1 is self-explanatory. Number 2 seems silly, but it’s true — we like to “Us and Them” the crap out of this hot potato. There is a bright line between the Glove Nazis and the Gloveless Idiots.

Glove Nazi’s have super clean Nomex, no tolerance for nuance, and certainly wouldn’t know which end of what tool is best used to fry grub worms (or why you would fry grub worms).

Gloveless Idiots are a bunch of babbling backwoods booger eaters who have no sense of cause and effect.

Well, we won’t get far if we believe either of those extremes will we? (But I bet you bought one of them anyway.)

OK kiddos, let’s sooth our hurt feelings and come back to the table for a little slice of compromise pie.


Gloves protect our hands. Gloves make some tasks more difficult.

Individuals make personal decisions about risk all day everyday. (Insert your favorite daily risk decision example here. Most people use driving, so don’t use that one.)

When and where to put on gloves is the ultimate “efficiency / thoroughness trade off” dilemma. It’s a pretty tough nut to crack.

What if…

  • Every time you saw a photo of firefighters working without gloves on you thought: “Wow, those folks must have a very compelling reason not to wear gloves…I wonder what it is?”

What if…

  • Every time someone asked why you aren’t wearing gloves you thought: “Wow – this person really cares about my safety, that is so kind.”

More acceptance. Fewer assumptions.

What if.


40 thoughts on “Gloveless Idiots

  1. It is easy, a natural motion, to take off the gloves when you need the fine dexterity of fingers, or the back of the hand to check for heat…but it takes training and effort, and maybe a little reminder from your friends, to put the gloves back on once that task is accomplished.

  2. The people who have a problem with this picture have zero concept of reality on the ground and in fact probably work in a nice clean air conditioned environment everyday in a office and probably the worse part of there day is that the copy machine ran out of paper or maybe the people who got offended over this picture are people who forgot where they came from coming up in there career. There are things that are difficult to do on a fire when wearing gloves and cold trailing is one of them. To the people who got offended by the photo …. SHOW SOME RESPECT TO THE HARD WORKING FIREFIGHTERS ON THE GROUND WHO PUT IN THE HARD WORK EVERYDAY AND GET VERY LITTLE APPRECIATION.

    • On one glove, I wish we could educate the public better on what the job entails. On the other glove I enjoy getting into the business of our hard work and not being over examined while I am getting my dig on. I totally get it, and never want to get too far away from it. Maybe the next big wildland fire movie will cover some of the details for us, because I am no spokesperson (given the career I picked). It is difficult to even have these discussions about ‘what we do’ with family and friends, let alone public.

    • I don’t like the picture, as noted by others shows two deficient habits. Learning to do the work while wearing gloves is important to the safety of the individual. Do you have to wear your gloves every second of the shift? No, as pointed out during mop up use of a bare hand is necessary, but putting your glove back on is an important habit to have. I’ve mopped up many fires removing and re-donning my gloves a lot. If your not wearing it when your attention is diverted then its very likely you’ll not have it when you need it. As for the work spacing, lead by example, the picture is viewed by many people and may mislead some into thinking it’s an acceptable and common practice. Keeping a safe work distance as a habit which can avoid an injury. Can cold trailing and other mop up practices still be done effectively if time is taken to put your gloves back on? I think so. Crew supervisors have been reminding crew-members to watch their spacing for a long time, for good reason.

      • They are digging at a hot spot not digging line or swinging tools over head. The “spacing” rule doesn’t apply to this situation. It’s this miseducation and misinterpreting of the guidelines that causes problems. Also, the sleeves to me don’t look rolled, when digging typically the sleeves do migrate up the arm a bit as the elbows bend. Finally, your gloves comment; the Redbook says you have to have them, but doesn’t have any specifics about them other than the general clause at the start of the PPE sections that says refer to JHA/RA’s for specific guidance.

  3. Time and place for everything. My crew always knew the time and place for gloves. If the weren’t wearing them when they knew they should we would wear them all the time for a few days. It’s about knowing when to use your PPE and actually using it. Also I am surprised no one commented on the person using the modified non commercially made hand tool. Another one of those head scratcher rules.

    • Good hell- there is a rule about what hand tools you can use now? I’ve been out of the Hotshot gig a while- but the premise of some random rule about that sort of thing sounds pedantic at best.
      As far as the glove thing goes- it was always task dependent. For example- if we were burning- gloves go on, sleeves roll down. If we were mopping up gloves come on and off etc. The lesson learned center has gotten into the weeds on some of these posts.

  4. I always agree that a little more understanding of the other (empathy?) goes a long way. I will say that the policy is not clear on this. Our policy states all the things we are to carry, but does not specify when they are to be used. For example ear plugs. Do folks wear these all the time?

  5. One can only imagine how our forefather fire fighters survived without “all” the equipment we have today. I am quite sure that many of them never wore gloves and many did.
    As always, we have forgotten common sense, and rely on those glove nazis mentioned to make sure we’re using it “all”, regardless of the job/situation.

  6. It’s pretty obvious the firefighters are mopping up and not cutting line. If the people writing in to question why folks aren’t wearing PPE or why they are working so close had ever spent much time mopping up, they wouldn’t be writing in. Like you said, it too easy to make assumptions than it is to ponder why folks are doing things the way they are.

  7. Many years ago, when I fought fire, there were very few glove sizes offered. I have large hands and never could find a pair in our fire cache or at fire camp that fit well. Are firefighters offered a wide variety of glove sizes today?

  8. This comment has little to do with the context of the article and a lot to do with words. Using the word “Nazis” in any context is very offensive. I know it has become phrase to describe “rule keepers” in our culture but it must stop. I had and uncle whom served in WW2 and “freed” a camp I can not write the words he used to describe what he saw there and what people are capable of doing to each other so please stop using a word that represents such a heinous group of people.

  9. I think the better question is when do you wear glove (s) and when do you not wear them and what are the consequences I.e., when needing to get into your fire shelter, trips and falls, hiking through brushy country or hiking in open country with your tool. Each situation can be different and the experience or lack of experience of the FF may dictate.

  10. Always carry, very rarely wear them. Loss of feel big issue. If i get a burn rolling a log while mopping up, only myself to blame. 35 years a builder, 20 as ff hands calloused. Dont you love it when some one looks at photo after the event and comments about some petty little thing, go get the stains out of your fire gear,lol.

  11. I almost never read this FLA simply because I thought the title was disrespectful. But I did read it and all the comments too. Have always been anti-glove myself b/c of the whole lack of dexterity issue. But definitely got me thinking – so thank you. Will remember this.

  12. I started in the 80’s, gloves were required but situational. By required I mean available to be donned quickly when needed to protect the hands. The mindset was the less you wore gloves, the tougher they got with callouses. Besides, I feel it is negligent (as a crewboss) to expect someone to be wearing gloves in extreme temps in a static fire situation (mop-up, patrol, cold trail, monitor) since they are such heat traps. I don’t recall firefighters experiencing the numbers of heat related injuries back then, hmm. We looked at them sort of like shrouds, use it when you need it, not “at all times” My hands got pretty tough and I was never burned or injured. To this day I don’t put them on unless needed.
    I have “compromised” and became a willing “glover”, leading by example but also teaching my folks that “just be smart” about when and where to use them.
    When do you absolutely wear gloves? Using any firing equipment (except for shooting rounds), direct hotline, especially in light fuels, transiting a hot area where the risk of a trip or fall would mean your hands go in first, Santa Ana wind driven, WUI fires, cutting on a burning log, just to name a few.

  13. The “option” to not wear gloves , depending on conditions , shows how lax safety has become in today’s firefighting world. Fifty years ago, the only time we took off our gloves was to cold trail or to wipe. This wax impressed on us by grizzled veterans of fire fighting, not “glove nazis “ in clean shirts. These vets could recite the 3 volumes of checklists and 9 – lines and analysis – they knew how to keep safety simple, like wearing gloves at all times. I suppose hard hats and rolled up fire shirt sleeves will be the next options. And we never heard of “rhabdo “ and the like. We had sense enough to stay hydrated, take breaks, or maybe we were just tougher. Good luck out there. This whole line of discussion makes me sick.

    • Forty years ago our Supt taught us that wearing gloves softened our hands and to wear them only when running a saw, swamping, or moving a hot object. Different crews, different philosophies.

      To imply that firefighters in the ‘old days’ were somehow “tougher” is incorrect. The current crop of firefighters are plenty tough and deal with more intense fire behavior and longer duration fires than we had back then.

    • “Do astronauts take their gloves off in space?”
      Astronauts wear gloves during launch, re-entry, and EVAs (space walks). They wear them when necessary, but most of the time astronauts do not wear gloves in space.

  14. Part of my issue is the design and quality of the gloves that the procurement people purchase. Some will give you worse blisters from a poor seam location and size versus going bareback.

    One glive does not fit all hands nor necessity

  15. Pingback: More acceptance. Fewer assumptions. – Thinking it Through

  16. What importance is placed on the purchase of gloves? Is it buy the under $10 pair to meet the requirements or spend more to get a pair that correctly fits the firefighter’s hands and are comfortable to wear. There are more than just one type and size of approved gloves out there. Take the time to outfit your people correctly so they can do their jobs safety.

  17. Mop up is more effective when working together; one squirting water (if you have it) and 2 or 3 working together digging and stirring.
    There are very few times when gloves must be removed; cold trailing and checking your mop up work are some of them.
    How often do we read of shelter deployments when hands get badly burned because someone wasn’t wearing gloves? It’s much better to be in the habit of always wearing them, and in the times when you need to take them off, putting them back on as soon as you are finished with the gloveless job at hand. In the heat of the moment, remembering to put your gloves on is probably the last thing you will be thinking about.
    As for the individual who said, “if I get burned rolling a log mopping up only myself to blame”, is that true if you have to go to the hospital for burn treatment? Will you pay for that yourself, or expect your employer to do it? Food for thought……….
    For many years I purchased my own leather gloves (my first fire was 1980); the cache gloves didn’t fit (small hands), had a horrible seam ( I wore them inside out), and something in the leather would make my hands break out in a rash. Eventually I worked with the individual who did our equipment purchases and together we found gloves that worked for me; small, comfortable, no uncomfortable seams, and no rash.
    Lastly, I too would like to see the word “Nazi” not used; it is disrespectful in so many ways.

  18. A couple of quick thoughts, apologize for my long post
    I agree that the label of ‘nazi’ is out of line. I understand the tone of the comment, but perhaps a better descriptor would be ‘zealot’ or ‘passionate SOF.’
    Next, and to the core issue of the article – gloves. PPE is important and a necessary part of our job but it is and has to be situational. You simply cannot attempt to put safeguards in place to mitigate every accident. If you were to wear every piece of PPE at all times you would surely prevent a lot of cuts and minor burns, but you would also have lots more folks in the med tent/hospital for IVs due to heat illness.
    All choices come with a trade off between efficiency and thoroughness. There is no 100% safe option, there is no 100% efficient option. Those that claim otherwise are probably selling a new piece of gear.
    A simple example – should we also wear eye protection at all times? What about while hiking? What if it fogs up during the hike and the individual trips because they couldn’t see? A minor inconvenience that becomes the hazard and creates the accident.
    We need to wear earplugs right? Especially around those very noisy saws? What about the overhead on the crew who need to be able to hear radio traffic that could potentially alert the crew to a far greater danger? I’m mostly deaf in one ear because I made the conscious choice – years ago – that my crews safety (from burnover) was at least as important as one ear. I do not regret that choice.
    There is a simple Risk analysis that occurs for each firefighter, nearly every minute of the day – is there a safer way to do this? Will that create additional, new hazards? Efficiency vs. Safety all the time…
    The comments above, claiming that ‘back in my day we were simply tougher,’ are also very disrespectful. Just because something worked for you doesn’t mean it works now. Safety isn’t simple. Claiming otherwise makes you feel better as you are able to blame others for their accident. And as we respect the efforts and past practices of those who came before us, perhaps a bit of respect is due to those who are out on the line today.

  19. Hello all,
    Travis Dotson here – author of this piece. Thank you to all who have commented on the use of the word Nazi. I take full responsibility for that mistake. It’s not ok and I own that. I am very tempted to go in and edit the original blog post to take out the offensive term (because I feel embarrassed about my ignorance) but I have chosen to leave it. I feel like the context and the comments provide the best conditions for someone else to benefit from this discussion.
    Words have meaning and I failed to be conscientious with mine in this instance. I am very grateful for the lesson, as embarrassing as it may be. Good conditions for learning though!

    What if…I took my own advice.
    More acceptance. Fewer assumptions.

  20. Man I hate gloves. Hate them. I’ve had more cuts and burns on my hands from not wearing them. Knives, grinders, chainsaw chain. All of it. I still hate gloves and don’t wear them about 99.9% of the time.

  21. I have my gloves readily accessible for when I need them or they are required – as in running a chainsaw or a 4wheeler.
    I never wear them for anything else – my hands are tough, strong working hands. Made possible by not wearing gloves. I really don’t need soft manicured hands for this profession and I’ve been a primary firefighter for 17yrs now. I would say that I’ve been in the trenches long enough to make a point.

    The title should be “gloves Heads vs. Squares.”

  22. Several points in relation to the picture and the article.
    1. They are digging at a hot spot not digging line or swinging tools over head. The “spacing” rule doesn’t apply to this situation. It’s this miseducation and misinterpreting of the guidelines that causes problems. 2. The sleeves to me don’t look rolled, when digging typically the sleeves do migrate up the arm a bit as the elbows bend, or they just happen to be people with long arms.
    3.Finally let’s talk about gloves; the Redbook says you have to have them, but doesn’t have any specifics about them other than the general clause at the start of the PPE section that says refer to JHA/RA’s for specific guidance. It also give the guidance that flight gloves and NFPA 1977 compliant driving gloves can be used by some personnel when not using fireline hand tools. Your specific Agency/Forest/District or Company may have a different policy or JHA/RA that specifies otherwise.

    This can all boil down to a couple of issues that I see fairly often, “us vs them” and either the misinterpretation or blind acceptance of what someone tells you is “policy or required”. I heard a similar argument about the “requirement” to wear an undershirt under your nomex shirt that became quite heated. Once pressed the instigator of the argument couldn’t find anywhere in the Redbook or in the BLM and 2016 USFS handbooks requiring it. Someone in the group did find it in the newest version of the USFS handbook though (I can’t remember if it was the 2017 or 2018 manual, but this conversation occurred in April 2018). The reason this even came up was the instigator was talking about how he had kicked several BLM employees off a fire for not wearing t-shirts under their nomex and had called their supervisor over the “gross safety violation”.

    What we should be doing is instead asking the question “Why are they doing it different than the way I do it or how I was taught?” Thinking about and evaluating if they actually creating or potentially causing an accident or injury to occur. And finally is this really an issue that I need to puff my chest up on proclaim my “superiority” about?

  23. In response to the anonymous comment about the people commenting only working in offices and not understanding the job. I have worked many years on the line and now work in both an office and the line. When I was physically doing the field tactics of fire fighting I made it a point to train always using gloves including tasks like, tying knots, operating a radio, pulling fire shelters, all pump panel operations etc…
    It is not impossible or even hard to do these tasks if supervisors insist we train like we fight. I understand occasionally we do have to remove some PPE to complete the mission, using hand tools on fire line with stump holes in the area is not one of those situations. I have been on multiple investigations where properly worn PPE would have fully prevented or lessened the injuries to the degree we wouldn’t have been involved in writing reports for three weeks. True tough hands working a hand tool is a very low risk operation until you walk to the next smoker, fall in an ash pit and receive career ending injuries to your hands. Being supported by the taxpayers for the rest of your life because you chose to not wear taxpayer provided PPE deemed necessary by your employer is not ok. If that’s not enough think about what it would do to your family, they care about and need you.
    Safety is a culture and the culture has changed, we all need to work together to improve that culture for the health and well being of our employees.

  24. I realize its a choice…. but what do you put on the CA-1? What do you put on the CA-1 as the supervisor of the injured employee? What do you tell OWCP if they choose to deny the claim? Easy to debate until you have to put a person/name to it…..

  25. Great read!
    I saw a cool plaque at the gym.
    It said, “Don’t judge, be curious”.
    Keep up the great work Travis!

  26. When I was a hotshot I never wore gloves. Gloves were for nerds. However, now that I’m a dispatcher I wear gloves at all times. I’m currently writing this comment with gloved hands. The leather makes typing easier. No typos. No blisters. You will never see a picture of my non-gloved hands within ten feet of a keyboard.

    Be safe out there.

  27. I only like pictures of firefighters wearing gloves. They must also have an extra set of gloves attached to their belt loop with a carabiner. I will complain via email if their shroud isn’t down. The deployed shroud can really compliment their daytime headlamp positioned above their big stupid-looking goggles. Pants will be tucked in boots of course. I prefer a bright red bandana tied around their neck but I’ll accept blue as long as it goes over their face at the first wife of smoke. I want them to look as if they’re about to rob a stage coach. If I hear somebody is lacking in any of these specifications I will call them on the radio which will be properly positioned in their chest harness. They will double click their mic to acknowledge they copy my transmission. Then after a hard shift of getting mad at hands without gloves we’ll return to fire camp and enjoy chow while wearing our yellows. If it’s too hot to wear our yellows we’ll wear our Moonlight Fire t-shirts from 2007.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.