Basic Forest Fire Suppression Course - Online Lessons


6.4 Heavy Equipment Safety

Occasionally heavy equipment will be required to perform various suppression activities that cannot be completed by line crews on there own. As an example, during periods of very low water reserves (low brooks, rivers, ponds) it may have to be supplied by equipment that is designed for transporting heavy loads in forest terrain conditions. Another example would be to construct a fire break around the line that could also be as access for ATV`s (All Terrain Vehicles) supplying equipment for ground crews. Each piece of equipment can perform a specific function which will be described in more detail.


This piece of equipment is most commonly used as an earth moving machine and will be found frequently on a fire line after the flames have been brought under control. Whenever they are used on the line, a crew will be developed consisting of an operator, spotters and a crew leader. The spotter is responsible for deciding where the dozer will place the line. This is accomplished by using flagging tape to mark trees which gives the operator a guide from which to work. The spotter is also the “look out” for the operator who will be busy concentrating on the job at hand, which means that spotter will be watching and communicating fire behavior (flare up potential). The crew leader will be responsible for the over all performance of the dozer unit (fuel for the equipment, food for the crew, maintenance for the dozer and any other necessities for the crew.

The majority of the time a dozer will be working on a fire in Nova Scotia, the main function will be to construct a fire break around the edge. The methods used to perform the job will be the same as those employed by the hose line crew (direct, indirect or parallel). The conditions around the fire will dictate which method is used.

Direct Attack – Dozer will construct line next to the edge of a fire. This can be accomplished when potential fire behaviour is very quiet (low intensity levels, slow or no spread rates). This method is most favored on small fires with escape potential (has the potential to resist initial attack measures) or in cases where there is high interface potential (homes, structures, subdivisions...).

Indirect Attack – Dozer will construct line well in front of or away from the fire edge. This method should be used when the potential fire behaviour is higher than the comfort level of the crew will allow. Once the fuel break has been constructed then the fire will be allowed to burn up to the break and stop at that point.

Parallel – Dozer will construct line in front of and parallel to the fire edge. This method is used on a larger fire with an irregular edge which allows the dozer to create a break without having to follow the entire edge.

Considerations when constructing a dozer guard:

1. Topographic conditions (steep slopes or rough and rocky ground) may be unsafe for the equipment and operator.

2. Consider the potential fire behaviour in the fuels next to the fire. Fire break may not hold if spotting across the guard occurs.

3. There should be a minimum of at least two tree lengths between the dozer and the spotter.

4. There should be a minimum distance of at least 200 m between the dozer and hose line crew.

5. Fuels should always be pushed away from the fire edge.

6. Consider the size of the dozer when making a request. Needs to be large enough to deal with the kind of fuel involved.

7. Depending on conditions, two working in tandem can do a more effective job and provide a safety measure if one becomes stuck.

8. A dozer operator should never work alone.

9. Communications between operator and spotter must be established before work begins. Radio and hand signals.

10. Never work down hill from an operating dozer because of rolling material.

11. The use of LACES must be established and implemented during any work period.


Another piece of earth moving equipment that has become far more common than the dozer is the excavator. This is also a tracked vehicle that looks and operates very differently than the dozer. A large mouth shovel on the end boom arm performs whatever job is required. The shovel can be replaced by a variety of attachments which makes the excavator far more versatile. Regarding fire suppression activities it can perform the same job function as a dozer and then some. In order to construct a fire break, the bucket is swung from side to side moving fuel as it goes.

Operational considerations as well as methods of line construction are the same as using a dozer.

Skidders and Porters

Both of these pieces of forestry equipment used to remove harvested trees to a landing site near the side of a road. Both can be outfitted with specially designed tanks to transport water for mop up purposes. A crew will also be assigned to work as a unit similar to the dozer or excavator crew.

Consideration when working with this equipment:

1. Always wait for the equipment to stop before applying water.

2. Never ride on the equipment while moving.

3. Climbing above 10 feet on the equipment without climbing harness is prohibited.

4. Safety briefing with crew and operators will be conducted before work begins.

5. Terrain should be considered if conditions are too steep.

Muskeg and Trailer


Another mop up tool available on request through the Fire Control Center (Department of Natural Resources Forest Protection HQ) in Shubenacadie is the “Muskeg”. This equipment is available on request and will be delivered on site with an experienced operator. It is equipped with a 450 gallon water tank and can supply the fire line with equipment stored in a trailer that can be towed behind. It is designed to work in a variety of difficult conditions ( wet or swampy ground, steep slopes). Again a crew will be assigned to work with the equipment and a safety briefing will be conducted before work begins.

Guidelines have been established for mobile equipment in The Forest Professional. This has become the standard from which safety practices have been established for forestry operations in Nova Scotia.