LACES Wildland Firefighters Survival System

LACES Wildland Firefighters Survival SystemThe LACES wildland firefighters survival system upon which the BBVVFD home page slider presentation is based is an adaptation of the LCES wildfire suppression safety concept developed in 1991 by the late great USDA Forest Service Interagency Zig Zag Hotshot Superintendent Paul Gleason as a direct response to the tragic loss of life on wildland fires and a concern for the overload of rules and procedures that had to be remembered by a firefighter at any one time. Rather than trying to remember Basic Wildland Fire Management, the 10 Standing Firefighting Orders, the 18 Situations That Shout “Watch Out!”, the Common Denominators to Fatal Fires et al, Gleason’s LCES acronym prompts firefighters to focus on four key safety factors: ‘L‘ookouts, ‘C‘ommunications, ‘E‘scape Routes, and ‘S‘afety Zones.

What the ‘A’ added to ‘LCES’ to create ‘LACES’ stands for depends on who you ask. As the authors of the ‘LACES versus LCES: Adopting an “A” for “Anchor Points” to Improve Wildland Firefighter Safety‘ proposal observed:

‘This has not been the first attempt to add an “A” to LCES. According to the Firefighter’s Handbook on Wildland Firefighting (Teie 1994), the “A” in LACES stands for “Awareness.” It is also believed that some agencies have dedicated the letter “A” to denote “Attitude,” amongst other labels. It is unfortunate that the lack of a national/international standard exists for the use of LCES versus LACES. It only confuses the issue and introduces the need to train imported personnel from other agencies before they can begin firefighting. One close call in Alberta this year has already occurred, perhaps due in part to the interpretation by different agencies of LCES versus LACES. It is time to move to adopt one national or international standard for firefighters exported outside of their jurisdictions.’

Here is how Teie’s handbook expands the LACES acronym:


The lookout is the eyes of the crew and its leader. Lookouts should be in a position from which they can see the fireline, the fire itself, and the crews that are working the line. They should be able to recognize and anticipate dangerous situations, and must report changes immediately. The size and complexity of the fire may require more than one lookout. They need to be experienced, able to recognize dangerous situations.


Lookouts should watch for changes in the fire’s location and behavior. They should know the plan, so that they can relate it to what they see the crews accomplishing and what the fire is doing. Lookouts should also track the weather by taking readings at regular intervals. They should watch the sky for telltale signs of change. Finally, you must be able to understand what the lookouts are trying to report, or posting lookouts will serve no purpose. Remember, however, that situation awareness is the responsibility of everyone on the fire.


The fire officer, crew leaders, and lookout(s) should have a quick, reliable, and tested way to communicate with others. This may be by direct radio contact, or through a lookout or other relay point. If you plan on using the radio system, have an alternative way to communicate in case the radios fail for any reason. Establish regular reporting times. The communications link down to the individual firefighter may be by word of mouth. It can be very noisy on the fireline, so as the noise gets louder, the distance between individual firefighters will have to be shortened to ensure adequate communication.

Escape Routes

Note that routes is plural. Have at least two planned routes of escape. If your primary route is cut off, know what you are going to do. Every person on the fireline must know the plan, and what is expected of them. Everyone must also know what is to trigger a move to the safety zone. It is important to remember that, as the crews tire, they will not be able to retreat as quickly. You may have to shorten the distance between the work site and the safety zone, or provide an escape route that is “faster.” Escape routes should not be measured in feet or chains, but in minutes and seconds. Make a conservative estimate of the time you will need to get the crew to safety. Use that as the guide as to how many seconds of travel time you can tolerate. If you are constructing an indirect line, the establishment of two escape routes may be a challenge.

Safety Zones

Safety zones are places of refuge, places you can be assured of your safety. Their size is dictated by the fuel, terrain, weather conditions, and worst-case fire behavior. The use of fire shelters should not be necessary; however, that isn’t to say you can’t use them. Some commonly used safety zones include “the black” or burned area, natural features like green meadows or ridge-top meadows that can be burned, clearings constructed as part of line construction, clear cut blocks, etc. Safety zones should NOT be downwind from the fire; in chimneys, saddles or narrow canyons; require steep uphill escape routes; or be located near heavy fuel concentrations. The time to get to the safety zone is also critical.