As wildfires continue to pose an increasing threat across the United States, the tools and equipment used by wildland firefighters are more important than ever. Among the most crucial pieces of gear for wildland fire crews is the chainsaw, a vital tool used in a variety of fireline situations. But with different models, features, and certifications required, choosing the right chainsaw for wildland fire applications can be a complex decision.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the key factors wildland firefighters need to consider when selecting chainsaws for the fireline, from trusted brands to proper maintenance and essential accessories. I’ll also discuss the significance of chainsaw training and certifications to operate saws safely and effectively in rugged wildland environments. Whether you’re an experienced hotshot or just starting out in wildland fire, read on for an in-depth look at the role of chainsaws in wildland firefighting operations.
What Chainsaw do Wildland Firefighters Use?
When it comes to chainsaw brands used in wildland firefighting, two names stand out—Stihl and Husqvarna. These two brands are by far the most commonly used by hotshot crews, smokejumpers, engine crews, and other wildland firefighters.
Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws are ubiquitous on the fireline for several key reasons. Both brands have earned reputations for reliability and performance under tough conditions. Their pro-grade saws are designed to handle heavy-duty use in remote settings. Supply units at large fires typically carry parts and repair components for Stihl and Husqvarna models, allowing crews to service their saws on site. And both offer chainsaw lines designed specifically for wildland fire applications.
Popular Stihl models seen on the fireline include the mid-range 440 and the professional-grade 460 and 461 models. Husqvarna’s 576XP is another frequent choice, featuring robust power and torque for demanding cutting tasks. While other quality brands certainly have their place, Stihl and Husqvarna remain go-to choices for most hotshot superintendents, squad bosses, and other wildland fire professionals.
In short, thanks to their proven track records for performance and reliability as well as the broad availability of replacement parts, Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws are overwhelmingly the preferred choices of wildland firefighters across the United States.
Chainsaw Safety and Certifications
Operating chainsaws poses significant risks for wildland firefighters. Kickback, pinching, and unintended contact with moving chains can lead to severe injuries if proper precautions aren’t taken. For these reasons, comprehensive chainsaw safety standards and training requirements have been established for personnel.
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) Standards for Wildland Fire Chainsaw Operations provide national interagency guidelines for safe chainsaw use on wildfires. This standard meets or exceeds the chainsaw safety requirements outlined in OSHA’s 1910.266 Logging Standard.
To promote safe operations, the NWCG outlines proper personal protective equipment, saw handling procedures, secure refueling methods, and mandatory training levels required to operate chainsaws on the fireline. Personnel must hold a qualified Faller certification to buck and limb trees or conduct complex chainsaw tasks during fireline construction. More routine saw use requires a Class B Sawyer certification as a minimum.
Beyond proper training, chainsaw safety also depends on vigilance in the field. Pre-operation equipment inspections, situational awareness when sawing, and exercising caution around brush and dangerous trees are a must. Chainsaw chaps, gloves, and helmets are essential protective gear for sawyers. With sound training and attentiveness to hazards, crews can operate chainsaws as safely as possible in wildland environments.
Chainsaw Maintenance and Troubleshooting
The challenging conditions inherent to wildland firefighting—from dusty terrain to bumpy truck transports—mean chainsaws face much harsher use than typical weekend yardwork. Performing routine maintenance and proper troubleshooting helps minimize equipment issues that could compromise critical operations.
Sharp cutting chains and firmly secured guide bars are essential for smooth sawing. Regularly inspecting and replacing worn chains is key, along with checking for loose bolts or screws that can vibrate free. Air filters and housings should be checked for proper sealing and cleaning to prevent dust infiltration. And inspecting fuel lines and filters helps avoid problems mid-cut.
Sawyers should also watch for potential symptoms of fuel geysering, which can indicate more serious carburetor issues. bogging during cuts or at full throttle can signal dirt in the carburetor or the need for adjustment. Unusual vibrations, smoke, or sputtering point to larger mechanical problems. Saw maintenance training is recommended to troubleshoot issues in the field.
While routine maintenance helps avoid many problems, equipment issues still occur. Proper training ensures sawyers can correctly identify potential malfunctions during critical operations. With attentive upkeep and troubleshooting, crews can keep their chainsaws running smoothly all season long.
Chainsaw Accessories and PPE
In addition to the saw itself, wildland firefighters rely on various accessories and personal protective equipment (PPE) for efficient and safe chainsaw operation. Transport and maintenance items including bar covers, spare fuels and oils, and socket sets equip sawyers for extended field use. In terms of safety gear, chainsaw chaps are the most vital accessory for leg protection. Hearing protection like headset systems or earplugs, and mesh visors for facial coverage, are also essential.
Chainsaw accessories and PPE allow hotshot crews, helitack personnel, and other wildland firefighters to operate saws smoothly in rugged conditions. Bar covers offer protection during transport while compact socket sets enable repairs in remote locations far from the supply cache. And protective items like visors and chaps are necessities when operating such potentially dangerous equipment, helping prevent severe contact injuries during fireline tasks.
Chainsaw Training and Certifications
Given the risks inherent to chainsaw use, proper training and certification are essential for wildland firefighters before operating saws in field scenarios. The S-212 Wildland Fire Chain Saws class provides this vital training. Over several days, students are instructed in chainsaw maintenance, troubleshooting, felling techniques, safety procedures, and live cutting exercises under instructor supervision. firefighters get hands-on experience running saws in realistic fireline situations.
The S-212 course trains sawyers to NWCG standards and is required for Faller certification. Personnel who will operate chainsaws in lower-risk circumstances can obtain a Class B Sawyer certification by completing portions of the course. With proper S-212 training, wildland firefighters gain the skills and best practices needed to contribute on the fireline safely and effectively.
Chainsaw certifications are crucial for launching a career in wildland fire. Class B Sawyer or Faller rating can determine employability for hotshot, engine, and helitack crews. Maintaining current qualifications by completing refresher courses is also essential for seasoned firefighters. Chainsaw training provides the specialized knowledge and hands-on ability needed to serve as a contributing member of the crew.
Chainsaws are indispensable tools for wildland firefighters tasked with constructing fireline, clearing fuels, or carry out structure protection. But choosing the right saw, maintaining equipment, and proper training are all key for safety and efficiency. Stihl and Husqvarna remain trusted brands on the fireline, while accessories like bar covers and chaps help equip sawyers for rugged conditions.
And comprehensive certifications ensure personnel have the skills to safely operate saws when the fire bells rings. By following the tips in this guide, wildland crews can be fully prepared to unleash their chainsaws when called to battle the flames.
What is the role of chainsaws in wildland firefighting?
Chainsaws are essential tools used in a variety of wildland fire tasks, including constructing control lines, clearing vegetation to stop fire spread, cutting helicopter landing pads, and removing dangerous burnt trees that threaten crews. Chainsaws allow firefighters to rapidly complete crucial operations to protect lives, property, and natural resources.
How do I choose the right chainsaw for wildland firefighting?
Opt for professional-grade models from trusted brands like Stihl and Husqvarna that offer reliability, ruggedness, and power to meet the demands of wildland fire sawing. Balance weight and bar length for your needs. And ensure the chainsaw is designed for fireline demands, with features like air filtration systems and fire-retardant components.
What are the most common chainsaw safety hazards in wildland firefighting?
Kickback from the bar, pinching the saw in wood, lack of situational awareness, improper maintenance leading to malfunctions, and operating without adequate PPE like chaps and helmets. Proper training, vigilance about work conditions, and using appropriate safety gear are essential.
How can I maintain my chainsaw for optimal performance in wildland firefighting?
Regularly inspect, sharpen, and replace cutting chains. Check for loose bolts/screws and damaged housings. Clean air filters and saw components. Inspect fuel system parts like lines and filters. Watch for symptoms of potential problems like geysering. And perform repairs or adjustments as needed.
What are the essential chainsaw accessories for wildland firefighting?
Protective gear like chainsaw chaps, gloves, and helmets. Maintenance items including bar covers, sockets, fuels, and lubricants. Small repair parts like air filters and spark plugs. And gear for transport like scabbards and cases help equip sawyers for the rugged fireline.
Why is chainsaw training important for wildland firefighters?
Formal training teaches proper maintenance and troubleshooting, safe handling techniques, situational awareness, and skills to fell trees, limb logs, and buck brush safely and effectively. Hands-on practice in real-world fireline scenarios builds critical experience under instructor supervision before facing a real wildfire.
What certifications are required for wildland firefighters using chainsaws?
Firefighters using chainsaws in non-complex tasks need a minimum Class B Sawyer rating, which requires completing portions of the S-212 course. Falling trees and advanced saw work require the full Faller certification from the S-212 class. Maintaining current qualifications through refresher training is also essential.
Michael Boyle is the founder and main author of Chainsaws Finder, boasting over 20 years of experience in the chainsaw industry. Hailing from Texas, Michael combines his extensive knowledge and hands-on expertise to provide reliable advice and top-notch service. His vision is to empower chainsaw users to tackle any project with confidence, making Chainsaws Finder a trusted resource in the field.