Learning from the Bridger Foothills Entrapment and Shelter Deployment

Three members of a helitack crew, overrun by the Bridger Foothills Fire, are entrapped inside the meadow that serves as their helispot, 12 acres of grass and sage that they consider their safety zone. Only two of the firefighters have fire shelters. Before the fire reaches them, they attempt to burn off the meadow vegetation to create the best possible deployment site to survive the approaching flame front.


This is the cover of the “Bridger Foothills Entrapment and Shelter Deployment FLA” report.


Excerpts from this FLA, that is told in a “storytelling” fashion to best put you on the fireground with the others that day:

“The spot fire that had cut-off their last possible escape route was now well established on the slope below them, and the trees were crowning out with flame lengths of over 100 feet. The wind was blowing so hard that his helmet went flying off his head.

“I deployed my shelter and within probably a minute or two could hear, feel, and see the fire going over and around us. The inside of my shelter glowed red . . . there was no place to get a cool clean breath. Embers blew inside my shelter and I would push them out. I tried to dig in the ground to get a clean breath and was unsuccessful. At some point I remember Charlie asking how I was doing. I responded with ‘Not good man, I can’t f**king breathe.’ I thought about my wife and kids and knew with some certainty that I was dead.”

 “Once all three firefighters emerged from their shelters, the first challenge was trying to get their breath back. Casey remembers struggling to slow down his breathing to get enough oxygen to stay conscious. Sam lay face down on the ground, legs still in the shelter, struggling to breathe. Charlie called over the radio for oxygen, hoping that someone would be able to get to them. The crew was in contact with Air Attack, but ground communication with the Division A Supervisor was spotty to nonexistent.”

Photo taken by third crewmember immediately after deployment.
The deployment site circled in red.

Read this FLA for context around these important lessons:

  • What does your initial or annual refresher for entrapment avoidance and shelter deployment training look like? Is it realistic enough to provide the background knowledge you may need someday?
  • What is your organization’s protocol for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) inspection? Is your gear in a condition conducive to serving its purpose?
  • What is your organization’s protocol for daily gear checks?

To see this FLA:

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