LCES -- Your Best Defense Against the Unexpected

Even firefighters that can recite their "10s and 18s" in their sleep can be at risk if they lack experience in predicting fire behavior. The best solution to this problem is to have a “bullet proof” LCES.

Escape routes
Safety zones
Implementing LCES on the Front Lines

  • Have experience to recognize potential threats
  • Be decisive
  • Communicate clearly
  • Be in a position to see potential threats and the entire crew
  • Be in a safe location

  • Have a communication plan
  • Command to retreat must be clearly understood by all

Escape Routes
  • Easily traveled and lead away from the fire, directly to the safety zone
  • If there is cut-off potential, two routes should be planned and discussed
  • Establish new escape routes as the effectiveness diminishes

Safety Zones
  • Locations of adequate refuge from advancing fire
  • Large enough for all who might use them
  • Located for effectiveness
  • Large enough for protection without a fire shelter.


Implementing LCES on the Front Lines

The expectation is that all members will be knowledgeable of the current and predicted fire behavior and will have planned an orderly and effective escape (LCES). But preparation means nothing if it is ignored on the scene.

Many experienced firefighters recommend staying within 100 feet of the safety zone in situations where the fire is close enough to make a sudden run toward their location. This may sound ultra conservative, but firefighters were burned in an entrapment in 1996, only 170 feet away from their safety zone.

If the structure being protected can be used as a safety zone, aggressive protection can be provided and would usually be within 50 feet of the safety zone. When moving from structure to structure, this distance will be exceeded, but the ability to quickly return to the last observed safety zone should remain.

As LCES is reevaluated each time the company moves or fire behavior changes, start with an educated guess about worst case fire behavior. Consider what has been seen in terms of flame lengths and rapidly spreading spot fires. Some useful questions to assure an adequate LCES might include:

  • Is the fire behavior at this location likely to be the same as we have seen, or could it be better or worse?
  • How good is our predictive ability? (Are we suffering from fatigue or lack of experience?)
  • Can our lookout see all possible threats?
  • Do we have absolute communication with our lookout?
  • Is our safety zone big enough and in a good topographical location? (If your safety zone is a structure, is it of substantial construction that will protect you from the peak heat wave?)
  • How soon could the fire get here?
  • Can we get to the safety zone before the fire can get to this location?
  • Is the escape route adequate for a rapid retreat and is there any chance it could be cut off? (If driving back to the last safety zone, is backing necessary or is there the ability to turn around?-- Have we discussed the escape plan enough so we can quickly communicate and make our planned escape?
  • What do we need to change?

If these questions can be answered in a positive way and a margin of safety has been added to the fire prediction, the company will likely be in a good position to aggressively complete the assignment.

If primary safety guidelines are not in place, request a safety check discussion with the company officer.