Firefighting Safety

It is essential that firefighting operations within or near areas that are known or suspected to contain military munitions (e.g., unexploded ordnance (UXO)) be planned with consideration of explosives safety. This is equally true where military munitions operating facilities (e.g., current of former production facilities, demilitarization facilities) exist. The local explosives safety specialists, bomb squad, or nearest military explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) unit should be contacted and used as a resource.

Millions of acres of property in the United States are known or suspected to contain UXO and discarded military munitions (DMM). The presence of UXO and DMM is for the most part a direct result of weapons system testing and troop training activities that the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted to ensure the readiness or our Nation's military forces. This property includes, but may not be limited to operational ranges on active military installations, formerly used defense sites (FUDS), installations closed or closing under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act (BRAC sites). The potential risks posed by UXO and/or DMM could be great depending on the types and amount present.

Knowing the history of an area is paramount! Fire departments that are responsible for fighting fires that could involve areas that are part of an active military installation or that were once used by the military (e.g., a FUDS, BRAC property), should coordinate, as appropriate, with the below to become familiar with areas known or suspected to contain UXO or DMM, or other explosive hazards. This information can be obtained:

  • For active installations - from the commander, fire department, director of safety, or facilities engineer. (This coordination should also be done when a department has a mutual support agreement with the installation's fire department.)
  • For FUDS – from the US Army Corps of Engineers’ District Commander
  • For BRAC installations – from the installation commander, BRAC Environmental Coordinator, or local reuse authority, if established.

Recognizing and taking action to mitigate the potential hazards (explosive and/or chemical agent) associated with military munitions that may be present is paramount to reducing the risk of serious injury or loss of fire fighting resources when fighting fires that may potentially involve military munitions.

The ability to recognize military munition is the first and most important step in reducing the potential risks associated with UXO. The below military munitions are likely to be encountered as UXO or DMM on operational ranges or property (e.g., FUDS) formerly used by the DoD for live-fire training or testing or military maneuvers. The potential explosives hazards from munitions vary based on a number of factors. Although the explosives hazards associated with small arms ammunition - defined as ammunition, without projectiles that contain explosives (other than tracers), that is .50 caliber or smaller, or for shotguns - are considered minimal they should not be ignored. Any munitions encountered should be considered UXO and extremely dangerous.

UXO can be found in many different ways (e.g., on the surface, partially buried in soil or partially submerged under water, or buried or fully submerged) and in many different conditions (e.g., rusty and crusted, like new, in parts). The location and condition of the munitions found on a site depends in part on the type munitions used, the weapon systems employed, how the munitions were used (e.g., training or the geology and environmental conditions of the of the area, and activities that may have taken place on the property since DoD last used the site.

UXO may be found fully intact or in parts or fragments. All UXO, whether intact or in parts, presents a potential explosion hazard and should be treated as such. Even UXO that have deteriorated present a significant explosives hazard. In addition, these munitions can also present an environmental hazard because munitions constituents, like their fillers (e.g., RDX, HMX, TNT), could become exposed.

EXPLOSIVES SAFETY MEASURES: Whether present in an area by design or by accident, UXO poses potential risks of injury or death. Remember the following:

  • If you did not drop it, do not pick it up or disturb it!
  • Do not enter an area known or suspected to contain munitions. All munitions, whether intact or in fragments, present a potential explosive hazard.
  • If you encounter or suspect you may have encountered a munition, stop, and scan the area for additional munitions. Do not move closer.
  • Never touch, move, or disturb a munition or suspect munition.
  • If time permits, clearly mark the area where munitions were encountered. Do not mark the munition.
  • Do not attempt to fight fires in areas known or suspected to contain munitions.
  • If the types of munitions present are:
    • Unknown, larger than a 155mm artillery projectile or a heavy accumulation of munitions are known or suspected to be present, evacuate everyone within 1 mile.
    • Known to only contain isolated 155mm munitions or smaller, the evacuation distance may be reduced to 1/2 mile.
  • Report the discovery of munitions to your immediate supervisor or the incident commander as soon as possible!
  • Do not use radios or cell phones within 100 feet of areas known to contain munitions, unless specifically authorized or in an emergency.

Wildland Firefighting Safety Guide
Wildland Firefighting Safety Guide:
Small File PDF 1MB
Large File PDF 7.1MB

Recognize, Retreat, Report  

RECOGNIZEwhen you may have encountered a munition.
RETREATdo not touch, move or disturb it, but carefully leave the area.
REPORTcall 911!

Last Modified: 01 October 2015 at 07:00