Earning the Firem’n Chit (also sometimes mistakenly called the “Fireman Chip”) is one of the first steps a Scout takes toward mastering fire safety. Scouts are known for camping and treating the wilderness with respect, but that can’t be done without using fire safely and responsibly. The Firem’n Chit will teach you the key principles for safe fire usage!
While fire is extremely helpful, it can also be extremely dangerous. Knowing how to properly manage a fire, put one out if necessary, or call emergency services can save you, your troop, and countless acres of woods.
Buckle up, because you’re about to learn all of that in this article!
First, take a minute to read through each of the requirements for earning your Firem’n Chit/Fireman chip 😛 . You should always be prepared by knowing what you’ll be learning before getting started! Then, I’ll explain each question so you can master fire safety. 🙂
What are the Firem’n Chit (Fireman Chip) Requirements?
- I have read and understand use and safety rules from the Scouts BSA Handbook.
- I will build a campfire only when necessary and when I have the necessary permits (regulations vary by locality).
- I will minimize campfire impacts or use existing fire lays consistent with the principles of Leave No Trace. I will check to see that all flammable material is cleared at least 5 feet in all directions from fire (total 10 feet).
- I will safely use and store fire-starting materials.
- I will see that fire is attended to at all times.
- I will make sure that water and/or a shovel is readily available. I will promptly report any wildfire to the proper authorities.
- I will use the cold-out test to make sure the fire is cold out and will make sure the fire lay is cleaned before I leave it.
- I follow the Outdoor Code, the Guide to Safe Scouting, and the principles of Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly!
Understand the requirements? If so, then this badge should be a cinch! However, I’d recommend just using this guide as the start of your research. Discuss each point with your Scoutmaster, look at other websites, and try to learn as much as you can!
Now, it’s time to get started! First, I’d highly recommend watching the short, helpful video (2:34) below. The ranger in it demonstrates almost all of the Firem’n Chit safety practices that we’ll be covering in the requirements later on. Seeing them in action will help you to learn faster and even more thoroughly!
1) I have read and understand use and safety rules from the Scouts BSA Handbook.
Before sparking your first match and igniting your first campfire, you should be well aware of the BSA’s use and safety rules around fire. In the back of your BSA Handbook, you should find a glossary, showing which terms are on what page. Then, flip to the section on Firem’n Chits! 😉
You should 100% read the fire safety section, so I’m not going to repeat it here. However, below I’ll be highlighting some of the most important concepts covered. Below are a few things that you absolutely must keep in mind when using or around fire:
- Fire is not a toy. Never remove hot sticks from a fire to throw or wave around, especially near others.
- Any lit fires must be attended at all times (by at least 1 responsible person).
- Any ‘fires’ (even smoldering coals) that are not cold to the touch are considered ‘lit,’ and can’t be left unattended.
- Keep at least 2 water buckets or a fire extinguisher readily available near any fire.
- Never light matches or ignite a flame within a tent. It’s super, super dangerous!
- Clear at least 5 feet of vegetation around any fire you build.
- Never light fires around the base of living trees or on grass. Instead, use a fire pit or other designated areas.
Make sure to remember this list as you continue earning your Firem’n Chit. It should serve as the foundation of your fire safety knowledge!
To become a successful fire builder, you’ll need to learn how to collect tinder, kindling, and fuel wood using bladed tools.
If you haven’t yet earned your Totin’ Chip, or even if you just want a quick refresher, you should definitely check out my Guide to Earning Your Scouts BSA Totin’ Chip!
Now that you’re beginning to develop your understanding of fire handling, let’s take a few minutes to cover the use and safety rules around propane, lanterns, and stoves.
Propane, Stove, and Lantern Fire Safety Rules
Like fire, propane should also be used with caution, as it’s an extremely common, highly flammable fuel used by Scouts. Below are a few important safety tips to keep in mind when using propane or propane-powered tools:
- Make sure that all gas connections are well-tightened (but no need to over-tighten with tools).
- Often, propane tasks are lefty-tighty, righty-loosen.
- Ensure all gas connections are fully secured and that there are no leaks
- You can do this by putting a bit of soapy water on the connections – small bubbles will form over any leaks!
- When lighting a propane stove/lantern, strike any matches/lighters before turning on the gas.
- Make sure all gas-powered items like stoves and lanterns are positioned on a stable, non-meltable surface.
- Never leave a lit stove or lantern unattended.
- Let your equipment completely cool before putting it away.
- Make sure that propane canisters are properly sealed and stored away from open flames or excess heat. They could explode!
- In any situation, never ever place propane canisters near an open flame.
Now that you know the main fire safety rules for both campfires and propane, the rest of earning your Firem’n Chit should be a cinch! In the next few sections, we’ll be learning some of the ethics around fire, as well as more safety tips to avoid starting forest fires. Let’s get into it. 🙂
2) I will build a campfire only when necessary and when I have the necessary permits (regulations vary by locality).
While campfires are a lot of fun to sit around, we shouldn’t build them all the time. There is a time and a place for everything, especially fires. Many locations (and/or seasons) have regulations around when and how you can build a fire while camping.
So, before you even begin thinking about getting out the matches, tinder, and kindling, make sure that you know the fire rules for your area. Below are a few examples of when it’s illegal or dangerous to build a fire:
- During Dry Season or in Heavy Winds
- In Fire Restricted Areas
- If It’s Only For Fun and Outside a Fire Pit
- If You’re Burning Dangerous Materials
- When Building a Fire Without a Permit
These rules are put in place to prevent campers from starting forest fires. Uncontrolled blazed can devastate natural resources and even kill innocent people. That’s why, at times when I’ve wanted to cook over a campfire, I’ve decided against it due to the wind conditions being too hazardous.
Luckily, as Scouts, we’re trained and prepared to stay warm and prepare food without a campfire. In fact, there are plenty of other ways to cook or stay warm without lighting fires (such as hand warmers, electric heaters, stoves, propane, etc)!
Also, even if you are in an area with fire restrictions, often you can purchase a permit from your county to legally light a campfire! I’d recommend contacting your local campsite authorities to ask whether a restriction is in place and if you can purchase a permit for your trip.
3) I will minimize campfire impacts or use existing fire lays consistent with the principles of Leave No Trace. I will check to see that all flammable material is cleared at least 5 feet in all directions from fire (total 10 feet).
One of the biggest parts of Scouting is Leave No Trace. This mindset helps us preserve the Earth’s natural resources for our children and future generations. Leave No Trace is especially important when it comes to fires as they can easily damage areas.
Here’s a quick recap of the essential Leave No Trace principles:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
While all of these principles are extremely important, the one we’re going to focus on today is Minimizing Campfire Impacts. The principle of minimizing campfire impacts focuses on reducing environmental damage and resource usage when building a fire.
Firewood has to come from somewhere, and many times its local forests that are the target. Using firewood has a bigger impact than many would think, and can contribute to environmental destruction. Try to use as little firewood as possible, and only use dead wood.
To minimize campfire impacts, you should also think about the damage a fire pit can do to the environment. Fire rings are visible long after they’ve been put out. This means you should use an existing fire ring or barren ground, whenever possible
Finally, do not keep anything flammable near a fire. Anything that could explode (propane, lighter fluid, etc.) should be kept far away. Clothes and chemical items shouldn’t be near a fire either. Even if they aren’t flammable, they can still create dangerous fumes that harm you and the environment. 🙁
4) I will safely use and store fire-starting materials.
There are plenty of items you can use to start a fire, but some of them can be extremely dangerous. These fire-starting materials need to be stored safely in order to protect your fellow Scouts, as well as to make sure they’re usable for future outings.
Below are a few examples of common fire-starting materials:
- Lighter Fluid
- Dryer Lint/Dry FireStarter
- Flint and Steel
- Tinder (The Smallest Type of Firestarter: Usually Pencil-sized Twigs, or Smaller)
- Kindling (Medium-Sized Firestarter: Branches About as Thick as Your Thumb and as Long as Your Arm)
- Fuel/Firewood (The Largest Type of Firestarter: Dry Wood That’s Wrist-Thickness or Larger)
While not every single one of these is prone to exploding, all of them need to be stored safely. Lighter fluid is especially important to store safely, as a simple spark can set it alight.
Lighter fluid should always be stored somewhere cool, where it cannot come into contact with excessive heat or any kind of open flame. Using too much lighter fluid can also cause explosions and unexpected flare-ups, so use as little as possible.
When using lighter fluid, it should be applied to something like newspaper or kindling, instead of being sprayed directly into a fire. This is much safer, and will also help to conserve your lighter fluid.
Other fire-starting materials are a little simpler to store. These just need to be kept in a cool, dry area to ensure that they’re still useful when you need them. Never use those in excess either. This saves resources for future outings and prevents disasters — such as a giant, uncontrollable fire!
5) I will see that fire is attended to at all times.
This is a pretty easy principle to follow, but it is extremely important and often overlooked. A fire should never be left unattended. As a responsible Scout, whenever you build a fire, you stay by that fire until it’s out (or assign someone trustworthy to watch it).
The main reason that you shouldn’t leave a fire unattended is that it can spread without your knowledge. This can cause a forest fire and burn down your campsite! Once a fire gets out of control and spreads, it’s almost impossible to reclaim that control by yourself.
The short video (0:29) below shows what happened when some campers decided to leave their fire unattended:
As you can see, leaving a fire unattended can lead to some huge consequences. Luckily, in this example, the damage wasn’t too severe. However, the destruction and injury it caused could’ve been much, much worse. So, whenever you build a fire, never leave it unattended!!
6) I will make sure that water and/or a shovel is readily available. I will promptly report any wildfire to the proper authorities.
Having water and a shovel nearby any fire is extremely important. If your fire starts getting out of control, you’ll need to react fast. Here’s what shovels and water can do to help fight fires:
- A shovel is great for burying the fire, smothering it, and stopping its spread.
- Water is great for dousing the burning fuel, which should put small wood fires out almost immediately.
You can watch the video (3:39) below for a great tutorial on how to properly put out your fire with a shovel:
In addition to what the speaker of the video was saying, you should also pour water over a fire you decide to smother. Putting dirt over burning logs will stop the flames, but the area will remain very hot for hours afterward. You should never leave the site of a fire while it’s still warm.
If you notice a fire is spreading and beyond control, contact emergency services immediately. Whether it’s your fire or not doesn’t matter — call 911!
Every second counts when containing fires, so it’s better to take precautions than to risk even more damage and injury. Making sure the firefighters are on their way is a good way to mitigate the worst-case scenario if you’re unable to control a spreading fire.
We’ll go over how to tell if your fire is completely out in the next step, but always remember that using a shovel and water are your best friends when putting out a fire.
7) I will use the cold-out test to make sure the fire is cold out and will make sure the fire lay is cleaned before I leave it.
The cold-out test is essential for determining if your fire is actually out or not. Often, fires that could reignite and spread look like they’re out for hours! Plus, the cold-out test is easy to perform, as you’re simply touching the ash in your fire to see if it’s still hot.
Make sure to give your muddy campfire soup some time to cool off before performing the cold-out test to avoid burning yourself (been there, done that 😛 ). Here’s the best and safest method I’ve found for performing the cold-out test.
- Hold your hand about 6 inches over the entire area of the fire pit to see if it’s radiating heat.
- Move your hand slowly around to see if there are any hot patches.
- Then, stir the wet coals around one more time and feel over the area again.
- If you notice any hot areas, stir them into the water.
- If you don’t notice any warm areas, the area isn’t a fire hazard and should be safe to touch!
Be careful to watch for burning embers, even when doing the cold-out test. If you see a glow coming from the fire pit, the fire is not out. You should wait until there is no smoke or light coming from the fire before touching the ash to see if it’s cold.
In my own experience, even when using water a fire can reignite. I have “put out” multiple campfires that have reignited again before the pit had a chance to fully go cold. The cold-out test prevents that risk!
Once your fire is cold, remove all of the debris. The ash can stay, but half-burned logs and other trash should be taken out and properly disposed of. This follows the Leave No Trace principles, as all traces of your fire, except the pit, are cleaned up and removed!
8) I follow the Outdoor Code, the Guide to Safe Scouting, and the principles of Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly!
Now that we’re reaching the end of earning your Scouts BSA Firem’n Chit (or as most Scouts miscall it, the Fireman Chip), it’s time to incorporate different Scouting outdoor principles into your fire building! We’ve already discussed Leave No Trace, so I’ll run through the other ones here.
Let’s start with the Outdoor Code:
As an American, I will do my best to –
Be clean in my outdoor manners.
Be careful with fire.
Be considerate in the outdoors.
Be conservation minded.
This is just a great code to live by, whether you’re a Scout or not. The Outdoor Code reminds Scouts to be mindful while on outings and respect the natural wonders we enjoy as Scouts. Also, check out my guide for more ways to easily live by the Outdoor Code.
The Guide to Safe Scouting
The Guide to Safe Scouting is much longer than the Outdoor Code, but should still be read and followed at all times. It’s basically a tiny book that talks about the safety guidelines for almost every Scouting activity you can think of. (They did a really good job, in my opinion!) 🙂
The BSA offers an online version that you should read thoroughly before completing the Firem’n Chit. The Guide To Safe Scouting covers almost everything you could encounter on an outing, which will prepare you well for your future adventures!
Finally, Tread Lightly. Tread Lightly is a non-profit and BSA partner that promotes responsibility out in the wilderness. They have their own principles which should help you on an outing (which spells out TREAD):
- Travel Responsibly
- Respect the Rights of Others
- Educate Yourself
- Avoid Sensitive Areas
- Do Your Part
These Tread Lightly principles follow closely with other lessons we learn from Scouting, but they’re still important to consider when you’re out and about in the wilderness. By following all of these principles, you now are equipped to handle fire safely, ethically, and responsibly! 🙂
Also, if you’d like some help understanding each requirement for Tenderfoot, be sure to check out my Guide to Earning Your Tenderfoot Rank. Hope this helps you to get a leg up in the wonderful world of Scouting!
Congrats on Finishing Your Firem’n Chit!
You did it, great job! The Firem’n Chit is one of the first steps to becoming a confident Scout who can be trusted to handle fires. Fire safety is extremely important, and knowing how to handle fires can help you to prevent disaster on an outing. Do you feel safer already? You should!
If you enjoyed earning your Firem’n Chit this could even be the start of a new merit badge! That’s right, this subject is so important that the BSA created the Fire Safety Merit Badge, which goes into a lot more detail around the science and practice of fighting fires.
I hope you found my guide helpful, and want to wish you many safe, fun campouts ahead. Remember these rules around fire, because they’re very important. Hope to see you back at ScoutSmarts soon and, until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey! 😀