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"Original Intent" Ten Standard Fire Fighting Orders

For several years I have presented what I call the “Original Intent Ten Orders”. Fellow fire fighters have asked me to put the talk in writing. I hope that these orders will become your fire fighting foundation.

First. Throw away the listing of the Ten Orders as written in today’s literature. The Orders as written will compromise your safety. The present listing was developed as a catchy way for you to memorize the Orders. It will not help you in real world terms to effectively implement them. For the Orders to make sense, you must understand the original intent of the engagement and disengagement process. The Orders are in fact your rules of engagement.

The Ten Standard Firefighting Orders were developed by a Task Force commissioned by Forest Service Chief Richard E. McArdle in 1957. The task force reviewed the records of 16 tragedy fires that occurred from 1937 to 1956. Yes, both the Blackwater Fire of 1937 on the Shoshone National Forest and the Mann Gulch Fire at the Gates of the Mountains in 1949 contributed to the wisdom contained in the Ten Orders. The Fire Fighting Orders were based in part on the successful “General Orders” used by America’s armed forces.

Through my 29 fire seasons as a Fire Guard, Hot Shot, Smokejumper and FMO I have restructured only 2 of the orders to better fit the concept of engage and disengage as I was taught early in my career. I feel that my change in the order structure further complements the original intent of the authors. Remember the orders are designed to move up and down in sequence in an engagement and disengagement process. Understanding this concept should make sense to you through your personal, on the ground experience.

  1. Know what your FIRE is doing at all times. This is the basic order that all orders fall back on. This order frames your fire in three dimensions. The reason why we all like to initial attack is because of the unknown. What is my fire doing? What is it burning in? Soon, the unknown becomes the known as we complete our size up.
  2. Base all actions on current and expected BEHAVIOR of the FIRE. Your fire moves through the fourth dimension of time and space. Once you have fixed your fire through the size-up process, you must then begin to anticipate its movements through time. Current and expected fire behavior will help you do this. Your fire is not static. It will constantly move and grow until it is controlled.
  3. Keep informed on FIRE WEATHER conditions and forecasts. This is the second leg of your prediction matrix. In the Rocky Mountains, weather will most often dictate where and how your fire will move.
  4. Post a LOOKOUT when there is possible danger. You are close to engaging the fire with firefighters. But first you have to assure that your first three orders are not compromised. A Lookout will be able to tell you What Your Fire Is Doing. The Lookout can also take weather readings to help you predict where the fire is going to go.
  5. Have ESCAPE ROUTES for everyone and make sure they are known (safety zones). This is your final order before firefighters can become engaged. If the fire situation deteriorates, you can always disengage to this order until the situation becomes clear to you.
  6. Be ALERT, keep CALM, THINK clearly and ACT decisively. The final five orders deal with people. You must first be clear and calm in your own mind before you can lead others. If you are confused then disengage to order 5 until the situation is clear again. Remember that all of us no matter what our experience level will be confused and unsure of ourselves at times on the line. There are often just too many variables changing too fast for our minds to process. If you are confused, then disengage to your safety zone to watch and learn.
  7. Maintain CONTROL of your men at all times. Now you are moving out of your own presence and out to others. This order goes directly back to Wagner Dodge and his smokejumpers at Mann Gulch. If the crew would have only listened to their foreman and his revelation about an escape fire we might not have those 13 stations of the cross. All of us have doubts and uncertainties. The leadership on the fire must understand the situation and make sure that it is communicated in a calm and orderly manner.
  8. Give clear INSTRUCTIONS and be sure they are understood. If your crew is unsure, then take the time to re-evaluate and bring everyone up to speed. When in doubt, ask your firefighters to repeat the instructions until you are all on the same page.
  9. Maintain prompt COMMUNICATION with your men, your boss, and adjoining forces. Good communications are a sign of maturity. I have reviewed dispatch check-in and destination procedures with my high school daughter. I have had limited success. As professional firefighters we must demand nothing less then the best possible communication. If your communication lines are broken, then start the disengagement process until the lines are open again.
  10. Fight fire aggressively but provide for SAFETY first. I want to fight fire aggressively. I want to see the dirt fly. I want to move my crew around the fire’s head and cut the fire off. But, I know through experience that before I can fully engage, I must first satisfy the Ten Orders. If a safety problem arises at this point of engagement, then I must start the disengagement process. Safety is written all over and through the Ten Orders. I believe that the tenth order was written to emphasize the disengagement and not the engagement process. Even when things are going great (your crew is engaged and the dirt is flying), be ready to disengage back through the orders.
It is my hope that the Ten Standard Orders will be used as they were intended and not become just a list of items to be memorized by our field firefighters. I am not a saint. In my early years, I would tend to rush through the orders so I could aggressively engage. However, age and experience does change us all. I now submit, that the Ten Standard Fire Fighting Orders are the basic building block of our fire culture. All other fire suppression policy is based on these Orders.

I hope each firefighter will commit them to their heart, mind and soul. Be safe out there. This looks like a repeat of the “Fire Season from Hell”.

Karl Brauneis
SHOSHONE National Forest


Historical note:

Like most of my articles and poems (on fire) I provide circulation first in The Smokejumper (originally The Static Line). The "Orders" were published in the October 2001 Issue.

The Forest Service at first gave no support to the idea, until Hutch Brown at Fire Management Today said "this is good - lets get it published in a more official format".  I could also count on the smokejumper brotherhood to get the ball rolling.  A fellow jumper alumnus (Mike Apicello) pushed my write up from The Smokejumper at high levels. Mike was steadfast and pushed hard.  I understand he gave copies of the article to anyone and everyone he could get to listen to him. If I remember right, the Interior Department Agencies (USNPS/BLM/USFWS) were very supportive. We also mailed copies through the computer system to anyone and everyone who would listen.

I had always taught our young firefighters the process I laid out in the article.  The first publication (The Smokejumper) was the start in getting the orders back to their original format of what I believed to be an engagement - disengagement process. I also shared the article with Paul Gleason who was very supportive. 

The Fire Mgt Today publication (at a later date) was edited to be more friendly in nature.  Attached is my original write up as sent to The Smokejumper. (This Smokejumper version from 2001 is what we have here in the Archives. Ab.)

Best Wishes,

Karl Brauneis
May 11, 2006

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