Researchers testing fire shelter prototypes on South Dakota prescribed burns

Left to right: Bobby Williams, Nick Mink/BLM, Blake Stewart/USFWS, and Joe Roise inspect the fire shelter model currently used by firefighters, which was included in the field test for comparative purposes. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone

Above: Left to right: Bobby Williams, Nick Mink/BLM, Blake Stewart/USFWS, and Joe Roise inspect the fire shelter model currently used by firefighters, which was included in the field test for comparative purposes. Photo courtesy  Great Plains Fire Management Zone 

North Carolina State University researchers this week began field testing new fire shelter prototypes during prescribed fire operations in South Dakota.

About a year after the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots from the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire, the U.S. Forest Service entered into a collaborative agreement with the NASA Langley Research Center. The goal: to examine potential improvements to fire shelter performance. University researchers also received a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant to develop new material that improved existing fabric technology and enhanced current fire shelters.

Researchers from North Carolina State’s College of Textiles worked with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources to study and offer up potential improvements. 

Until this week, those efforts were generally confined to the university’s lab. But researchers joined an East River Fire Training Exchange training crew for burn operations in eastern South Dakota to test a new fire shelter prototype.

“The whole project is extremely important because it can save lives across the nation,” Professor Joe Roise said in a news release, posted to InciWeb. “That’s the bottom line: saving lives.”

North Carolina State University Joe Roise (foreground) and Bobby Williams (background) set up their fire shelter test site within the Eyecamp prescribed fire area. The sensor poles shown here measure and record the temperature at 2, 4, 6, and 8 feet in height as the fire passes through the area. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone.
North Carolina State University Joe Roise (foreground) and Bobby Williams (background) set up their fire shelter test site within the Eyecamp prescribed fire area. The sensor poles shown here measure and record the temperature at 2, 4, 6, and 8 feet in height as the fire passes through the area. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone.

Operations are taking place this week in the Madison Wetland Management District.

Field testing is likely to continue in coming weeks and months. The shelter models will be tested in fires on Virginian marshland, north Florida pine forests and timber throughout Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Burn Boss Blake Stewart/USFWS (left) and Firing Boss Nick Mink/BLM (right) walk out to the fire shelter test site after the fire has passed.
Burn Boss Blake Stewart/USFWS (left) and Firing Boss Nick Mink/BLM (right) walk out to the fire shelter test site after the fire has passed. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone.

 

Author: Jason Pohl

In addition to writing for Wildfire Today, Jason Pohl reports on public safety-related issues for The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY.

3 thoughts on “Researchers testing fire shelter prototypes on South Dakota prescribed burns”

  1. I’m glad to see time and money being spent on current and new fire shelter research to increase chances of survival in cases of entrapments or burn-overs. But we do need to continue to train firefighters to stay out of situations where this might happen. That’s by far the best way to prevent injury and death.

  2. If the 20 pound fire shelter comes out, I think it will be time to quit red carding and stay local for IA only. Greater protection in about the same size & weight shelter is the best solution.

  3. Having done considerable testing on potential fire shelter materials I would conclude that the only way to provide a better shelter is to include an insulating layer to reduce the interior surface temperature. In addition, the videos from actual fire shelter testing in field conditions almost always show fire intrusion under the edges of the shelter. I suggest the only way to avoid this is by having a floor in the shelter.

    It may be possible to make such a shelter that weighs the same as the New Gen version, but the undeployed package will be larger.

    I submitted material and a proposal to the FS a couple years ago for a shelter that would reduce inside temperatures and seal the bottom. Sadly, these were rejected.

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