Fire Season Starts With Recall Of Emergency Shelters
Firefighters are facing a problem with their equipment that could put their safety at risk. A new generation of fire shelters, used as a last resort by crews to survive uncontrollable flames that arise without warning , have been found to tear apart when deployed.
The federal firefighting agencies and the General Services Administration are recalling 68,000 of the new fire shelters for a retrofit to strengthen the products.
About 19,000 of the new, flawed, shelters are currently being carried by state, federal and contract firefighters.
The 11 national fire caches are no longer distributing the new generation fire shelter, and state and federal firefighters are being told to return the newer shelters to the nearest federal cache. Firefighters are supposed to use the older style shelters until supplies of the newly manufactured or retrofitted shelters become available, the U.S. Forest Service says.
But some firefighters may not be able to obtain an older style shelter immediately “due to the limited number,” the Service says. The newly manufactured shelters and retrofitted shelters will be available “within the next two months.”
According to the manufacturers, retrofitting should proceed quickly, at the rate of approximately 3,000 to 5,000 per week, plus production of about 5,000 per month of the newly manufactured shelters.
In mid-March, an alert was submitted to SAFENET, an anonymous reporting system firefighters use to alert managers to observed unsafe practices.
All the tears in the shelters were found to be in the floor material. The seam connecting the floors to one of the sides of the shelter ripped away. If used in that condition, the rips would allow flames to reach firefighters sheltering within.
Equipment specialists at the U.S. Forest Services Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) researched the problem and confirmed that some shelters were tearing near the shake handles during deployment.
No rips occurred during the extensive testing we did before the design went to the manufacturers. But we do acknowledge the issue, and have developed a fix in the design to strengthen the area of the shake handles, said fire shelter specialist Leslie Anderson of MTDC.
The design fix is being applied to all newly manufactured shelters, and the shelters recalled will be retrofitted with an improvement to the handle.
Fire shelters are required equipment for firefighters, but are considered a tool of last resort and should never be needed if situational awareness, risk management and discipline are employed to make the right decisions in strategy and tactics on wildland fires, the Forest Service says.
Still, the older style shelters have saved 300 lives since the 1970s, the Service says, and provide good protection against radiant and thermal heat when deployed properly.
Provided by the Environmental News Service.