Commentary on the 10 Firefighting Orders

Are there Holes in the 10 Firefighting Orders?

How do you give an order and not give any instruction? Having a firefighting order used to be an “order” but now it’s only a recommendation, and there’s no instruction on how to do it. This document explains how to do it.

Questioned by the numbers:

#1 Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.

What should be done when a weather forecast is made?  Overhead must determine the importance of this information to the tactical plans and action on the fire. In the South Canyon fire and the Yarnell fire this was not recognized as important by the resources and overhead. In each of these cases it was an oversight and/or ignored by overhead and crew-leaders.

The overhead is responsible for determining what will happen to the fire, identifying where there are trigger points for changing fire behavior, and estimating when and where the thresholds-of-control are when the forecast comes true. The tactical changes need to be the result of the evaluation of the forecasts. The FBAN needs to recommend changes to the tactical plan when weather forecasts indicate the need.

The Campbell Prediction System is one way to accomplish the fire behavior location and threshold-of-control estimates.

This situation needs serious consideration as well as other ways to abate the risks. 

#2 Know what your fire is doing at all times.

To accomplish this order you must make observations a current and frequently reoccurring task.  Not only observe, but also have the training and ability to explain the cause and effect of forces acting on the fire behavior. If you cannot identify the cause of observed changes in the fire behavior, then you cannot determine what the fire will do in the short term.

It is important to identify the dominant force acting on the fire as well as the alignment-of-forces in various places on the fireground. Each dominant force has a corresponding tactical match.

Wind driven, topography, or fuels dominated fires need different tactical plans to have the best chance of success. This determination is the first step in the tactical approach.

Recognizing the alignment-of-forces that cause variations in fire behavior is a way to determine when and where significant changes will occur.  The fire-signatures of the head, flanks and heel are indications of what the fire behavior will be in similar alignments of force.

Simple techniques, like identifying the alignment-of-forces and the dominate force, are important skills to develop for evaluating situations on the fireground..

Just because one thinks they are obeying the rules does not insure they can avoid the risks.

#3 Base your actions on current and expected fire behavior.

How are firefighters expected to accomplish this task? This is another weak spot in the system.

The BEHAVE program is not something the crew persons are trained in as well as most crew supervisors.  So that is not an option for prediction in the field.

The Campbell Prediction System is one way to be more accurate in the prediction of fire behavior.

Prediction needs to be studied and made into a more defined art.

#4 Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.

This a good idea but has proven to be more difficult than expected. The occurrence of fatality fires show that this is not fool proof.

Scientists have been attempting to determine the size of a safety area for a long time.  Without knowing how to predict the fire intensity of the exposure this calculation is weak.

This order is in need of study and should not be ignored.  Is oversight of this needed on fires?

#5 Post a lookout when there is danger.

What are the qualifications for a lookout?  None except that the supervisor of the unit trusts the lookout person to know what to look out for. This is a weak spot in the organization.

Should that position be considered for special training and certified for a red card?

#6 Be alert, be calm.  Think clearly, act decisively.

A good rule, requiring logic over emotion in hazardous situations.  How to promote this is a good question.  Is the “can do” attitude an emotional one or a logical one?  Fire is a hook for an emotional response that can be dangerous and does not provide for safety first.  Test for this in drills to determine the dominance of logic over emotion.  A number of exercises have been used to accomplish this.

A well designed drill program will expose and limit the emotional response that is dangerous.

#7 Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor and adjoining forces.

At times when this cannot be accomplished should the action stop and the situation be remedied?

The last crew fatality showed a breakdown in communications that was serious. If this situation is repeated on a fire should the supervisor stop aggressive action from units confronting the fire?  An act of omission here is a serious fault.  The order identifies what should be done but not what to do if it cannot be done.

This is a big hole in the system.

#8 Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood.

Training on how to read the fire and understand what it is telling you is important.  If you cannot do this then how can you give clear instructions and understanding be assured?

Training in the language explaining cause and effect on fire behavior will be an assist in accomplishing this instruction.

#9 Maintain control of your forces at all times.

This order is considered to be a good thing, but is it always?

If the supervisor is correct in the estimation of the situation it is a good idea.  But if the supervisor is wrong, like in the most resent fatality of an entire hotshot crew it is deadly wrong.

In this case the whole hand-crew and division supervisor died because the unit was well controlled.  What if a crewperson decided that the order to go downhill in the green was too dangerous a tactic and refused to comply?

Without the explanation of what the concern was based on the person who was correct in the situation will be controlled.

Are crew persons trained to deal with confronting this?  The last crew fatality proves the question is valid.  The crew leader needs to maintain control or the crew falls apart.  If the person who is disagreeing with the proposed tactic cannot change the leader’s intent and follows the crew, and dies, where is the fault in this situation?  More work needs to be done here to insure there is improvement in the leader’s evaluation of the situation and the leader’s recognition of individual concerns.  Answering the concern and keeping control of the crew might be to adjust the tactic.

Is it ever appropriate for “every man for himself”?

#10 Fight fire aggressively having provided for safety first.

For each individual to use his or her own ideas here is not the best idea.  The fatality fires of note had more aggressive fight than safety.  Safety first should first be able explain how the selected tactic is safe, and then depend upon aggressive and physical fitness to follow.

How to provide safety is the question here.


This is written in the hope to improve the risk evaluation.

— Doug Campbell

3 thoughts on “Commentary on the 10 Firefighting Orders

  1. After reviewing the paper on the 10’s I think WMT can add to the art of fire behavior prediction for on line and planning firefighters. Here to for BEHAVE was not available to anyone without training and a computer to evaluate the twenty-seven inputs and view the result for one place on the terrain. Now, however with the advent of The Wildfire Management Tool, WMT, a BEHAVE calculation can be done by a cell phone or laptop a mac or PC computer. What this allows is that anyone can make BEHAVE model calculations instantly and anywhere on the terrain. http://wmt.emxsys.com is the url for the program.

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