Gloves produce a strong opinion

Travis Dotson wrote an article posted on the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned website titled “Gloveless Idiots” expressing his strong opinion about those who point out that firefighters seen in photos sometimes are not wearing gloves. Mr. Dotson used terms like “Glove Nazis” and “Gloveless Idiots”. Maybe the provocative terms were chosen in order to stir up debate, or express his belief that it is OK in certain situations to not wear gloves.


By Travis Dotson

Wildland fire lessons learned center

Some people don’t like the picture at the top of this page. Here is part of an email we received:

“The current Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website home screen pictures three wildland firefighters working in the black with hand tools. From my perspective they appear to be less than 10 feet apart and two of them aren’t wearing gloves. Have NWCG standards on Line Construction and PPE changed?  I always speak up on these type issues since this is a pending Condition Yellow 9 Line IWI.”

Here’s another one:

“Just sharing that the header picture strikes me wrong, unless you are trying to show a lesson to be learned….no gloves and using hand tools seems out of place, given that we teach people to use gloves and keep their sleeves rolled down — am I missing something?”

So let’s talk about the picture, or rather the practice the picture captures — wildland firefighters working without gloves on. First of all, let’s do some acceptance around the topic:

  1. It happens. This picture depicts reality. This is how work gets done, whether we want it to be done that way or not.
  2. This is a divisive topic.

Number 1 is self-explanatory. Number 2 seems silly, but it’s true — we like to “Us and Them” the crap out of this hot potato. There is a bright line between the Glove Nazis and the Gloveless Idiots.

Glove Nazi’s have super clean Nomex, no tolerance for nuance, and certainly wouldn’t know which end of what tool is best used to fry grub worms (or why you would fry grub worms).

Gloveless Idiots are a bunch of babbling backwoods booger eaters who have no sense of cause and effect.

Well, we won’t get far if we believe either of those extremes will we? (But I bet you bought one of them anyway.)

OK kiddos, let’s sooth our hurt feelings and come back to the table for a little slice of compromise pie.

Gloves protect our hands. Gloves make some tasks more difficult.

Individuals make personal decisions about risk all day everyday. (Insert your favorite daily risk decision example here. Most people use driving, so don’t use that one.)

When and where to put on gloves is the ultimate “efficiency / thoroughness trade off” dilemma. It’s a pretty tough nut to crack.

What if…

  • Every time you saw a photo of firefighters working without gloves on you thought: “Wow, those folks must have a very compelling reason not to wear gloves…I wonder what it is?”

What if…

  • Every time someone asked why you aren’t wearing gloves you thought: “Wow – this person really cares about my safety, that is so kind.”

More acceptance. Fewer assumptions.

What if.

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+

11 thoughts on “Gloves produce a strong opinion”

  1. How about this for a compelling reason to put those damn gloves on (lol). As a former CALFIRE engine company officer I took it with great seriousness to bring my crew back home whole to their wife’s, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, ect…after each shift. If you loose the use of a hand, that is a major implication for the rest of one’s life whether from a traumatic injury or burns. I also want to point out the tax payer burden on paying out benefits on an employee for the rest of their lives due to lack of use of PPE. Your point on the extreme divide is well taken. I chose the glove nazi side of the issue and have no regrets at all.

  2. When I see children at work (I am in the senior old coot category) not wearing PPE of any sort, I remind them they only have one spare eye, hand, etc. And they will really like having both of whatever as (if) they age. Then it’s up to them to do the right thing. I take that attitude as I have no line authority to issue corrective action.

    There are necessary tasks on the fireline or elsewhere that are best done without the poorly fitting gloves issued by most departments. However, all gloves in my experience are easily put back on when the fine detail task is finished. A good line supervisor will instill a safety first attitude in all associates and they will make the correct decision on their own. The same attitude applies to saw chaps, hard hats, nomex over street clothes, etc.

  3. I wore gloves when I sharpened tools or saw chain; sometimes I didn’t wear gloves when I was mopping up; it just kind of depended upon the circumstances. Twenty-five years later, I’m still here to tell!

  4. What if this photo is simply a staged photo, and has no base in standard practices? Do we really think that firefighters are going to begin eschewing their PPE because a photo on a blog? Do we not have more important things to gripe about?

  5. I’ll keep it simple. Go to a Burn Center and have a look at burned hands, and the process to attempt to rehabilitate them. How fast does the situation change on the fireline, from “no threat”, to medevac? If you have no clue, you don’t belong there.jw, PPE Nazi and proud of it.

    1. You have a great point. EVERY firefighter should visit a burn center. I did, during my EMT training. It instilled in me an even stronger need to be sure everyone goes home— not to a hospital.

  6. Sleeves down, gloves on. Only exception would be to cold trail or check for heat when mopping up. Basic fundamentals of firefighting. And, walk and work ten feet apart. S130. Every crew I see working doesn’t adhere to this and the glove-wearing. Yes, every crew I see. PPE works, use it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gotten away with it in the past, some haven’t.

    1. Amen! I once saw an unfortunate trip and fall on the Modoc NF while in the second day of mop-up. He attempted to catch his fall and put both hands into a burned out root wad resulting in 2nd and 3rd degree burns to both hands. You are dead-nuts on!!

  7. How do you hotspot coldtrail with gloves on?

    However, if you get burned and aren’t wearing the proper PPE, I doubt the gov will pay the claim.

  8. Great topic. Glad it was aired from both sides of the fence. It obviously caused some reflection from many. From old Coots like myself all the way up to current. Regardless, it was thought (and opinion) provoking. Thanks for this great site Bill.jw

  9. Cold trailing using your hand? Leave the old ways behind. There are some good, lightweight, construction grade, not so expensive heat dectection devices in building suply stores. And I know structural departments carry them for finding hidden heat in buildings. And to get around the one size fit all, rought cut goverment issue gloves I just went out and bought a better grade with a smoother fit and more dexterity.

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