Fire crews are the infantry of any fire department. CAL FIRE relies heavily on fire crews as one of the three types of ground attack resources used for wildland fires. The other two types of ground resources are engines and dozers. Fire crews work where other mechanized equipment such as engines and dozers do not easily work and also work directly with engines and dozers supporting their actions. Crews build fire line in support of containment efforts at wildland fires. Fire crews also assist at search and rescue, technical rescues including urban search and rescue and at other non-wildland type emergencies. When not fighting fire, fire crews do work projects in support of CAL FIRE's Fire Plan to reduce fuel accumulations throughout the state and also perform conservation and general work projects for other agencies.
The labor or firefighters for CAL FIRE fire crews comes from its partner agencies including the California Department of Corrections (CDC), the California Youth Authority (CYA) and the California Conservation Corps (CCC). CAL FIRE is very proud of its long standing partnerships with CDC, CYA and CCC. Camps where fire crews are assigned are administered by a CAL FIRE Assistant Chief with partner agencies assigning a camp program supervisor to work with the Assistant Chief.
Operational Crew Use
Fire crew tool assignment is based on the type and height of vegetation. If the fuel is heavy, more cutting and grubbing tools are assigned. If the fuel is lighter, then less or no chain saws are assigned.
Each crew is commanded by a Fire Crew Captain and is separated into functional work groups using the, “Rule of Fours.” The Rule provides that each crew should have at least four cutters, four grubbers and four scrapers. If the crew has more than twelve assigned firefighters, the crew captain may assign additional grubbers, scrapers or “hot shovels” (hot spotting or dirt throwing shovel firefighters). A chain saw team includes the sawyer and the puller who pulls cut vegetation out of the way of the sawyer and casts it aside often to the unburned side of the fire line. The saw teams are followed by the grubbers who loosen the fuel for the scrapers. Some fire crews assign a “drag broom” which is a firefighter with a large, stiff straw broom who actually sweeps the line to mineral soil clean of vegetation and duff. The entire line-up of firefighters is called the “hook line” after the original fire crews who used brush hook tools before the invention of the chain saw. Consequently, the lead sawyer is still called the “Lead Hook.”
Fire crews work both direct (on the fire edge) and indirect (away from the fire’s edge) fire assignments. Indirect assignments are the most dangerous since it is more difficult to get into the burn or the black when working indirect.
A fire line is generally 1.5 times as wide as the fuel is high. If the crew is working in 4’ foot high brush, the fire line will probably be about 6’ wide. In that six foot width will be the canopy cut which is the entire width of the line through the brush. The scrape or part cleaned to mineral soil will not always be as wide as the canopy cut.
Fire crews are very adept at hot line fire fighting. In that mode, the fire crew will anchor from some favorable point from which the fire cannot fish hook behind them and begin rapidly cutting a narrow fire line (scratch line) to attempt to pinch off the head of the fire before it develops a strong head of steam.
Information Provided by Former CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Department Chief John R. Hawkins