Highlights from the 1977 CDF Firefighting Manual

Looking at 55 years of large firefighting organization charts, “support teams”, and hair requirements in California

CDF Firefighting Handbook, 1977
Cover of the 1977 California Wildfire Control Manual.

President John Hawkins shared with us a copy of the California Department of Forestry’s Fire Handbook, 1977 edition. The agency was known as the CDF before it became the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE.

It is a pdf version of Handbook 5600 with some modifications about 1979 and 1980 to address the agency’s limited trial of the Incident Command System (ICS) in their sixth district beginning in 1978, and the planned California-wide implementation of the ICS in 1983. The entire document can be downloaded here (file Large 10.2 MB).

Firefighters of a certain age are likely to enjoy reading through the pages of this 55-year-old document.

CDF 1977 Firefighting Manual
From page 51 in the CDF 1977 Fire Control Handbook, revised December 1980.

The 324-page book contains numerous operational guides, as well as information on aviation, safety, pre-attack planning, “support teams” and flood control operations. Most of them are immortal, but there have also been many changes. It is interesting to compare the policies in place 55 years ago with the current ones.

But going back further, let’s take a look at firefighting organizations before fire control system adoption began in the 1980s:

Forest Fire Organization, Forest Service, 1953
Two-section fire. From the principles of the Forest Fire Suppression Organization, US Forest Service, 1953.
Organizing the Battlement Creek Fire, July 1976
Organization on Battlement Creek Fire, July, 1976. From the report.

My career has been with the US Forest Service and the National Park Service. The CDF organization of Firefighting Handbook has at least one feature that is not familiar to me, the “attack” function, which was called the line function by the USFS. It is now called “Operations” in ICS. At the USFS it was led by Line Boss in its pre-ICS days. The “service” became logistics, and in the planning department the Maps and Records Officer was replaced by two units, the resource unit and the operations unit. The sectors became divisions, and a new position was introduced between the head of the planning department and the head of the department: the branch manager. There have been several changes in service/logistics.

CDF Firefighting Organization Structure, 1979
The Structure of the CDF Firefighting Organization, 1979.

Then there is the structure of the existing accident control system; Keep in mind that you only fill in the required positions.

Expanded Incident Control System (ICS) Structure
Expanded Incident Control System (ICS) Structure

The CDF Fire Control Handbook, 1977 edition, contains a section on “Support Teams”.

CDF Support Teams, 1977
CDF Support Teams, CDF Firefighting Handbook, 1977 Edition.
Motorola pager
Motorola’s early pager.

I don’t remember exactly when we started what were later known as Type 2 Incident Management Teams at federal agencies in Southern California. I think it was around 1980 or so.

As a Maps and Records Officer for the Cleveland National Forest in the ’80s, I carried a small Motorola pager to be notified when our team was dispatched. At that time, if someone calls you, the pager will sound an alert tone, sometimes followed by a hard-to-hear audio message from the sender. After the message it will remain quiet until the next page, but you can press down on the on/off button to hear the radio movement on the frequency. We later upgraded to fancier pager.

And before we close that, here are the CDF standards for hair in 1977. Since many CDF/CAL FIRE poses require the use of a respirator that needs a good seal on the face, some facial hair specifications are understandable. I don’t know what the current CAL FIRE requirements are, but I have a feeling many US Forest Service, BLM, and NPS workers may encounter some “grooming requirements”.

CDF Hair Standards, 1977
CDF Hair Standards, 1977.
CDF Hair Standards, 1977
Cont., CDF Standards for Hair, 1977.

author: Bill Jabert

After working full-time in prairie fires for 33 years, he continues to learn, striving to be a student of fire. View all posts by Bill Gabert

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