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Tactical lookouts (sector safety officers)

Team lookouts may work in close proximity to the fire front and it may be difficult for them to gain a full appreciation of what is happening across the whole incident ground, particularly in relation to unseen fire behaviour and spread. It is for this key reason that tactical lookouts may also be needed at wildfire incidents.

In addition to the responsibilities for safety officers as outlined in Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence and National Operational Guidance: Incident command, tactical lookouts should also be appointed and deployed by the incident commander, operations commander and/or sector commander(s) to:

  • Monitor all teams and personnel within their area of responsibility and ensure they operate within the LACES safety protocol at all times
  • Gather and review information on:
    • Fuel type, condition and arrangement
    • Topography
  • Monitor current weather conditions and obtain weather forecasts from command support
  • Use a wildfire prediction system to:
    • Predict future fire behaviour and firespread
    • Identify windows of opportunity, trigger points and critical points
    • Inform the implementation of the LACES safety protocol
  • Brief the incident commander and other personnel, as appropriate, on predicted fire behaviour, firespread and potential windows of opportunity, critical points and trigger points
  • Monitor and communicate any observed and predicted changes in fire behaviour, firespread and/or weather conditions to the incident commander and other relevant personnel (for example, team lookouts and crews/teams within their assigned area)
  • Monitor and report any observed or predicted extreme fire behaviour to the incident commander, team lookouts, other tactical lookouts and other personnel as appropriate
  • Monitor and report the location of members of the public, vehicles and aircraft not involved in firefighting operations to the incident commander and other personnel as appropriate
  • Plan, evaluate and monitor access, egress and escape routes
  • Plan, evaluate and monitor safety zones
  • Establish and maintain good communications with team lookouts, other tactical lookouts and other relevant personnel within the incident command system (for example, the incident commander, sector commanders, etc.)
  • Exchange information with relevant personnel and other agencies (for example, land managers and personnel working for other organisations)
  • Initiate and monitor the withdrawal of personnel from areas that become too hazardous

Tactical lookouts should adopt a systematic approach to monitoring and should be deployed to a good vantage point with direct sight over their assigned area. Tactical lookouts may monitor the whole incident, one or more sectors, and one or more teams, depending on the requirements of the individual incident.

Careful consideration should be given to topography when identifying suitable locations for tactical lookouts. For example, a tactical lookout positioned on top of a convex slope may be unable to see personnel working below.

 

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Diagrams showing how different types of slope can affect field of vision or line of sight.

It may be necessary or desirable to deploy multiple tactical lookouts at different locations to observe the entire incident and/or all personnel deployed. For example, multiple tactical lookouts may be required in the following circumstances:

  • Large and/or complex wildfires
  • Where visibility is restricted due to the topography and/or smoke
  • When both ground resources and aircraft are deployed
  • When wildfires may cause damage to high value sites or areas, such as:
    • Property
    • Infrastructure
    • Utilities
    • Designated or sensitive sites (ecological and heritage)

If more than one tactical lookout is to be deployed at a wildfire, the incident commander should consider appointing a safety sector commander to co-ordinate the role of the tactical lookouts, team lookouts and any other safety officers deployed. The responsibilities of the safety sector commander are outlined in the 'Safety briefings' control measure in Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence.

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Illustration showing the appropriate positioning of multiple and tactical team lookouts.

The location of tactical lookouts should be continually reviewed throughout the incident. Wildfires are dynamic and tactical lookouts may need to be relocated as the incident progresses. Relocation may be required due to:

  • Movement of personnel and resources out of sight
  • Smoke
  • Changes in the direction of firespread
  • Changes in weather conditions
  • Changes in tactics and deployments of personnel, vehicles and equipment

Incident commanders need to carefully consider how safety will be maintained if a tactical lookout needs to leave their vantage point to relocate. It may be necessary to deploy additional tactical lookouts or other resources (such as aircraft), perhaps on a temporary basis, to ensure both the fire and personnel are continually monitored. If additional tactical lookouts cannot be deployed, personnel working on the incident ground should be instructed to stop their current task and deploy to a safety zone until the tactical lookout is deployed at their new vantage point.