Stuff You Should Have

This is Travis Dotson’s “Ground Truths” column from the 2023 Winter Issue of Two More Chains.

By Travis Dotson

I have never been a gear junkie. I know those folks. I like them—they always have the coolest stuff. I often benefit from them being around because they pull out their latest nifty gadget which inevitably helps us be more efficient or more comfortable (think wilderness texting or really good coffee).

I always tell myself “I’m going to get one of those when I get back from this assignment.” I never follow through. And on the next roll I find myself hiking for bars on a bellyful of trash coffee. Serves me right.

Some of the stuff we have is frivolous, like pants with an embroidered crew logo, especially if the embroidery sewed your cargo pocket shut. Many, many things are nice-to-have and a few items are closer to gotta-have (or maybe dumb-not-to-have).

Of course, many in the field face the tight budget dilemma, or maybe more of a power driven over-controlled budget type of scenario. Some folks seem to get ahold of whatever they want. We’ve all seen the crew with dollar-dollar flame-resistant fleece and monogramed Jetboils (don’t hate the player). But we don’t all work at the Ritchie Rich Ranger District.

I’m not trying to trigger any audits here. I’m just trying to talk about what to prioritize when you have the golden opportunity to purchase some equipment. I will tell you exactly how to decide: You should let the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (LLC) prioritize your shopping list. We have the data.

The data comes from incident and accident reports. Every so often we see a series of repeats—maybe a certain type of event or a solid lesson showing up over and over.

In some cases, there is an obvious action related to the recurring scenario.

To this point, here is a list of stuff every merry band of dirt throwers should own—based on real deal lessons:

ItemHow ManyWhy
Handheld StrobeOne per individualMultiple instances of ground firefighters utilizing a handheld strobe to aid aircraft in orientation – in some cases, enabling urgent Short-Haul rescue.
Soft Stretcher (AKA carry-all)  One per squadMultiple instances of these being used to transport remote patients in time sensitive situations. Eliminates the need to build a makeshift litter.
Torque WrenchOne per vehicleMultiple instances of wheels coming off moving vehicles due to lug nut overtightening.
Lug Nut IndicatorsEvery wheelA known fix for quickly identifying loose lug nuts.
Fire ExtinguisherOne per UTVMultiple instances of UTVs catching fire (five reports in four years).
Roll Bar Mount for Fire ExtinguisherOne per UTVOne instance of the fire extinguisher stored in a place not accessible as fire progressed.
Fire Extinguisher Inspection ServiceOne per stationMultiple instances of fire extinguishers not functioning properly in a time of need (like when the UTV is on fire).
New HelmetsOne per individualHelmets are important (see page 10 of the Tree Felling Accident Analysis). Any new helmet is a start (many helmets in use will not pass a proper inspection). Consider all the different types of helmets out there.

And One Bonus Item:

High-Vis Flame-Resistant Shirts

Why? Dirty yellows act as camouflage. Camo is bad for communal SA—like noticing folks who have wandered into your tree felling work area.

“Many other high-risk professions utilize high visibility clothing (loggers and construction). The utility is not solely for finding unaccounted for individuals, it also serves general visibility in the field.

Are there advantages to this in the wildland fire environment? The ability to better see people on hillsides? From aircraft? Night operations? Cutting area control in saw operations? In smoke?”Horse Park Fire Entrapment (page 33)

So, before you go crazy with that flush budget and buy a batch of crew logo tank tops and sweatbands for the daily PT look-good contest, prioritize the lifesaving items on this list.

And if you don’t control the purse strings, take this list to the person that does. Have them call the LLC.

We got your back.

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