Fuel in a bladder bag

Bladder bagMaybe I led a sheltered life as a firefighter, or perhaps I just worked around people who made safety number one, but until today I had never heard of filling a bladder bag (backpack pump) with a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel and using it to apply the burn mix onto brush or slash piles that were to be burned, or were presently burning. But apparently it is a common practice on some U.S. Forest Service districts, according to a recently released “Lessons Learned” document. Below is an excerpt; the entire document is HERE. After the reported near miss, those practices may change.


I was walking down the hall of the district office with one of the district staff when we stepped into a conversation some of the crew leaders and assistant crew leaders where having about a near miss on some pile burning operations the previously day. There had been a flashback of flame toward one of firefighters while using a Fedco five gallon with fuel mix (piss bag/ bladder bag) to fuel the ignition on one of the piles. Some of the group was thinking it was no was big deal, some were trying to defend the action of using the Fedco as a firing tool, some were not sure and others thought it was not the right tool for the job. One individual said “we used to use them in region “X” and on my old forest all time in pile burning no big deal you have to just be careful with the flashback”.

I decided to bring it forward to the group that this is something we need to talk about, some were a little reluctant but everybody joined in. I had someone inform the rest of the folks waiting to go out pile burning that we all needed to talk about this issue and that “the piles would wait”. Someone pointed out “have you ever seen a dry piss bag on a fire and did you think there was fuel on the outside of the bag”?

Burning pileThe employee who had the near miss said his fire shirt had fuel on it. We talked how the drip torch had a spark arrest in it, and you are creating a fine mist at the nozzle when you pump the bladder bag which is also creating flumes which comes back and creates the flash that becomes a very unsafe operation.

The subject came up how to carry 5 gallon of fuel mix up the hill as the gas cans weight down on the arm. We asked those that did not think this was the right device to use, why did they not say anything. They felt that they were not going to use it and the person who filled it up was the senior leader of the group.

“What if this had not been a near miss but more serious we should have spoken up or at least talked about it.” We discussed, both as a group and one-on-one, the actions, planning and proper tools to use. We all need to have more training and discussions of proper tools, safety, and minimizing risks.


Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

12 thoughts on “Fuel in a bladder bag”

  1. What were these folks trying to simulate? 11B skills? This is a case of pure Delta Alpha….. pure and utter stupidity…lessons learned?????? NONE of my former land management work ever included this type of negligence or use of wrong tool for a WRONG job. Wooooow …..there is some hot toddy material for ya!!!!

  2. I would label this as a very lame ass idea.
    Once upon a time we would strap the GI 5 metal gallon cans filled with fuel on old GI pack frames and haul them in that way for the drip torches. Lot’s of work but determined safe at the time.
    Now to to strap on a rubber fedco filled with fuel and use it to spray fuel on a fire, is just plain plain nuts. It’s a fine way to immolate ones self. There are approved tools to do the same thing.

    Just because one is “senior” does not mean they are smarter or incapable of making mistakes. I am suprised that no one stepped foward at the time to stop or object to the idea. It could have been very tragic if someone was burned, Liability for the chain of command would be huge.

  3. Yikes. That’s not a very good idea at all. If they are worried about how they are going to get their fuel up the hill, try running a fire tool handle through the fuel can handle and have 2 people carry it (like they do with the water crates). I know one time we were getting ready for a prescribed fire and we had a rookie accidentally fill one of the Indian Cans with the drip torch fuel mixture. Luckily a few of us saw it happening and was able to get the can cleaned of fuel before it ended up on the fireline… Oops!

  4. I have done many burn projects,and used many different tools to do the job.But never and I do mean never has the idea of a bladder bag full of fuel ever come up because of the safety factors to the personnel!!!!!!

  5. WOW! worked for the FS for 23 years, been around the Agency since birth, ans I have never even heard of this. WTF was a crewleader doing this for.

  6. I can understand Mr Morgans’ plight in 5 gallon cans on pack frames as the (early daze, maybe?) predecessor of the aluminum pumpcan…..

    But this “admission” on the “lessons learned” page goes to new heights of ignorance. Those “senior leaders” ought to carry a shovel for an entire year…something like we had to do if we screwed up in the Army.

    What can not afford an $150 dollar drip torch? OH, I gots the idea….how about a Fedco?

    Now really would anyone here admit to this? AAR’s and Lessons Learned are really for more serious objectives in a mission.

    After servicing some damn fine UH1’s $ 2-3 miilion a piece replacement and UH60’s approx $23 to 30 million in replacement costs, you would sure NEVER see me treating a $175 to 200 replacement bladder bag in this manner.

    But again, it is in the education, and some folks missed that little period of instruction.

    Please do us all a favor…if you are treating bladder bags as such, please either 1) stay away from ANYTHING that flies OR 2) have someone hold your hand to an aircraft or vehicle so those folks that practice this can get and idea what REALLY goes on in life.

    I suppose these folks use screwdrivers to hammer nails!!

  7. 30 years in the FS working on many burn projects with hundreds of people and this idea never came up. Whoever thought of this needs to go back to being a crewperson with nothing but his shovel to worry about.

  8. I might also be concerned about static electricity. That being said, its a bad idea and should be banned.

  9. Are you kidding me .. Been in the biz 30 years and have never seen this happen.. Did someone pull the crewleaders red card yet …. I am speachless

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