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

This is the third and final 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. The second post discussed options for other PPE items including head coverings, face coverings, and eye protection. This installment will address boots and shoes, gloves, and overall considerations for choosing PPE items.

black logger-style fire boot
Logger-style fire boot (Credit, The Supply Cache)

Boots and Shoes
Boots or shoes should not only cover your toes and provide protection, but also be comfortable and allow you to move freely. Whatever shoe you choose to wear, be sure to wear wool, cotton, or other non-synthetic socks that fit comfortably with your shoe of choice.

  • Fire Boots: Wildland fire professionals are required to wear boots that are a minimum of 8 inches tall, all leather, lace-up, and with a Vibram-type, melt-resistant sole. These boots come in both logger and mountaineer style, with the latter looking like a large hiking boot. These boots are extremely durable and maximize safety, however they often cost $250 or more, although there are options in the $100-200 range. Fire boots can be purchased from retailers that sell wildland fire gear and equipment, as well as at some specialty shoe stores, and farm or outdoor supply stores.
  • Work Boots: Various professions require work boots that may be used for burning. If you are considering wearing work boots you already own, only do so if those boots are leather. Steel-toes boots are not ideal for fire boots as they conduct heat and can be very heavy and difficult to move in.

    Hiking boots
    Hiking boots with some ankle support (Credit, Laurel Kays)
  • Hiking Boots: Leather hiking boots are an excellent option for landowners conducting prescribed fires. While they do not provide the full protection of fire boots, they are much more affordable and many landowners already own them. Taller boots that come above the ankle are ideal to both protect you in uneven terrain and prevent ashes from getting in the boots.
  • Sneakers: Sneakers are the least protective shoe used for burning. If worn, sneakers should be leather. Protection is relatively minimal, and may not be enough to allow you to stomp out embers. If your sneakers have soles made of rubber or synthetic material, there is a possibility they could melt when exposed to the heat of the fire.

Gloves
Gloves should be made of leather and fit securely with no holes. They should be tight around your wrist – this will help to avoid debris falling in or the glove catching on branches or other obstacles. Basic leather gloves can be purchased from many online and in-person retailers for as little as $10. Some burners may prefer gloves with features such as a strap that allows them to be clipped together on a belt or pant loop. If you are purchasing new gloves, be sure to break them in so they fit well and move comfortably when you burn.

Other Safety Considerations

  • Jewelry: Jewelry can conduct heat if it is made of metal, and may get in the way of safe, comfortable movement when burning. If at all possible, remove jewelry before burning, particularly rings as fingers may swell due to heat when burning and rings may cause discomfort and be difficult to remove.
  • Undergarments: Undergarments should fit securely and comfortably. Many secure sports bras are made of synthetic materials. When possible, cotton undergarments are preferred, however bras made of synthetic material are acceptable and unlikely to cause a safety issue except in an extreme emergency situation.

Overall Considerations

  • Consider both safety and comfort. When choosing PPE, a burner must balance wearing items that provide adequate protection with being comfortable and able to move freely. Choose options that work for your body.
  • Work with your budget according to your burning plans. Use things you already own when you can. Decide what PPE items you want to purchase, and how much you are willing to spend. This may depend on how often and where you plan on burning. When possible and safe, use items you already own that provide a sufficient level of safety, such as sturdy hiking boots.
  • Think about the little things. Small annoyances can be major safety issues if they interrupt your concentration on the fire line. Remove jewelry that could be a distraction. Wear undergarments that are comfortable and secure.
  • Remember maintenance. Check your PPE before and after use. Repair any damaged areas or replace the item before wearing on the fire line.

    Screenshot of map that can be used to find PBAs
    Great Plains Fire Science Exchange maintains a searchable map of PBAs

Additional Resources
If you live in an area with a Prescribed Burn Association (PBAs) or similar landowner association, you may be able to borrow PPE from the PBA or its’ members. Members may also be able to provide local, affordable recommendations for where to purchase PPE. Some PBAs and other organizations have burn trailers with prescribed fire equipment that is available to borrow, which sometimes includes PPE.