From a paper by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University:
Although it is still a mystery about precisely when, where, or how the original 13 Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’ were developed, there is good reason to believe that they originated in the late 1960s, and most likely after 1967. Officially, there were 13 “Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’” in effect through the summer of 1987.
Then, five items were added to the list when NWCG developed the “Standards for Survival” course later that year (1987). At that time, the name was also changed to 18 “Watch Out Situations,” and the sentence structure of each item was altered from the subjective “You are…” to a more objective description of each situation.
1987 was also the year the Fire Orders were reordered, and the Standards for Survival course and subsequent trend analyses of the Watch Out Situations emphasized how the two lists were supposed to work together. Although the Fire Orders were reordered (again) in 2003, the list of Watch Out Situations has remained unchanged since 1987.
"Basic 32" wildland fire training
In 1972, when I was on the El Cariso Hot Shots near Elsinore, California, the crew, led by Superintendent Ron Campbell, saw the need for standardized basic training for wildland firefighters. At the time, there was nothing, just collections of papers, research, and some books. Some people had written some lesson plans, but there was no widely available, organized training curriculum that could be used to take someone off the street and put them through a structured multi-day course in wildland fire suppression.
In what is now seen as a remarkable accomplishment, the crew created a 32-hour course, complete with lesson plans, a slide-tape program, tests, and a student workbook, to fill this need. Over the next several years, dozens of copies of the program were made and distributed, mostly around the Cleveland National Forest and other areas in southern California. Later it was converted to video tape which made it a lot easier to put on the training, and the popularity spread even further.
Tom Sadowski and I took most of the photos, the slides, that were used in the program. Recently I converted over 800 of my slides, prints, and negatives to digital form, including some copies I had of some of the original slides that I took that were in what became known as the "Basic 32" training.
13 Watch Out Situations from the 1970s
The photo at the top of this post is from that "Basic 32" program, and was one of the 13 images of what was then the "13 Situations That Shout Watch Out".
I will post the other 12
Here are the 18 Watch Out Situations as they are today.
1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.
Jennifer A. Ziegler, Ph.D., at the 9th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Pasadena, Calif., 2006; Photo: Bill Gabbert
Dr. Ziegler will be presenting a follow up poster at the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Phoenix, April 27-30, regarding the origin of the original 13 Situations, called "Help Uncover the Mystery of the Original 13 Situations That Shout Watch Out". One aspect of the Situations that has captured her interest is that they were originally intended to be operational tactics and not safety guidelines.
A question she will be asking at the Safety Summit will be "What is the 19th Watch Out Situation?"