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Prescribed Fire PPE: Practical Options for Landowners (Part Two)

This is the second in a three-part series of posts highlighting PPE options for landowners who conduct prescribed burns.

The first post in this series highlighted practical personal protective equipment (PPE) pant and shirt options for landowners conducting prescribed fires. This post will discuss options for other PPE items including head coverings, face coverings, and eye protection. A third installment will address boots and shoes, gloves, and overall considerations for choosing PPE items.

Head Coverings

  • Fire Helmets: Most professionals who conduct prescribed fires choose or are required to wear a hard hat to protect from falling debris. These helmets protect the head, absorb sweat, and have a rim that helps shield the eyes
Fire Helmet
Fire helmet (Credit, The Supply Cache)

from bright light. They are also made with heat-resistant materials. They generally cost $50 or more. Hard hats made out of non-heat resistant plastic should be avoided, as they could melt in the heat of a fire. If you choose to wear a helmet, be sure that it is not only heat resistant, but that it is comfortable and fits well over your hair in the way you plan to wear it while burning. Helmets can be purchased from online or in-person retailers, such as those that sell forestry and wildland fire equipment.

Baseball Caps: For landowners who choose not to wear helmets while burning, baseball caps are an accessible alternative. They do not protect the head from heavy objects, but cotton hats do provide some protection from lighter debris such as ash, leaf litter, and twigs. They are also helpful in shielding the eyes from bright light and absorbing sweat.

Bandanas: Bandanas offer minimal, if any, head protection. However they are useful in absorbing sweat, and some burners choose to use them in addition to other head coverings, particularly fire helmets.

Face Coverings

  • Face Shrouds: Shrouds that wrap around the head or connect to a helmet can help burners lessen the impacts of smoke during burning. These shrouds are generally made of fire-resistant material, and some even have space for an air filter to further improve breathing in smoky conditions. Face shrouds can be purchased from retailers that sell wildland fire equipment and clothing, and can cost as little as $30.
Face Shroud
Face shroud (Credit, The Supply Cache)

Bandanas: Simple cotton bandanas can be worn around the neck and pulled over the mouth and nose in smoky conditions. Bandanas are generally less secure than face shrouds, and may easily fall down if not tied securely. They also provide much less protection as smoke can still get under the bandana.

Masks: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us now own simple cotton masks that cover the mouth and nose. These masks may also offer some amount of protection from smoke impacts during burning. However, be sure that both the mask itself and the straps that secure it are wool, cotton, or another non-synthetic material. Retailers that sell wildland fire equipment also sell face masks made entirely of fire safe or fire-resistant materials.

Eye Protection

  • Goggles and Safety Glasses: There are many styles of goggles and safety glasses, with those made specifically for wildland firefighting made of heat-resistant materials. For burners working with or around tools like chainsaws, some goggles and glasses include a fine mesh that protects from small pieces of flying debris. Eyewear that has been tested to withstand impact will have “z87” printed on them. Burners who wear goggles or safety glasses should select a pair that fits securely and comfortably, and is ideally heat-resistant.
Man wearing safety glasses during burn
A man wears safety glasses during a prescribed fire. (Credit, Oklahoma State University, Prescribed Burn Equipment fact sheet)

Sunglasses: As with goggles and safety glasses, ensure sunglasses are heat-resistant and fit securely and comfortably. If your burn could last into the evening, considering bringing non-tinted goggles or safety glasses to wear as the sun goes down. Prescription Glasses: If you require prescription glasses or contacts, be sure to wear whichever option works best for you while burning. For those who choose or need to wear prescription glasses, be sure your glasses fit securely. You may also choose to wear prescription sunglasses if you have them.