When wildfires are running rampant across North America's forests, crawler dozers are first in line to help. These machines and their operators work in the most difficult conditions imaginable, contending with smoke and flames of monumental proportions to contain the dangerous blazes.

Dozers play a critical role in fire suppression. Fighting forest fires involves applying extinguishing agents, removing fuel, and isolating the fire until it's contained and burns itself out. Dozers work alongside hand crews to construct fire lines around the fires, removing fuel from their path to prevent spreading, while trucks, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft douse the flames with water and foam.

It's dangerous work, and there's no room for equipment failure. Machines need to be reliable, simple and able to work in the harshest conditions, according to Jim Karels, assistant director of the Florida Division of Forestry. Of the Division's 250 dozers, 60 percent are John Deere machines. Medium crawlers such as the John Deere 550H and 650H are the Division's primary on-the-ground firefighting equipment. These machines are used to scrape eight- to ten-foot wide firebreaks to stop the fire from reaching property and natural resources.

Each of the Division's dozers is prepared for the harsh requirements of the job by G.R. Manufacturing, a company that customizes the John Deere crawlers with the special equipment needed to fight fires. The main objective is to protect the operator as much as possible. Key among these special customizations is the environmental cab--an enclosed, air-conditioned operator's station equipped with a sophisticated air-filtration system to protect the operator from smoke and dust. The system consists of three stages: a spark-arresting screen, a high-efficiency particle element, and an activated-carbon element to absorb hydrocarbons.

The Division was the first to use this unique technology innovation, which was introduced on 11 crawlers when John Deere won the initial bid in 1994. Several other states now are using environmental-cab-equipped crawlers, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. In recent years, the Division has purchased only enclosed cab machines to ensure the highest level of safety possible.

A number of features make John Deere H-Series dozers a good choice for fire-fighting applications. With excellent visibility and maneuverability, these machines have plenty of power and are easy to run, which means they reduce operator fatigue. They also are extremely reliable and durable, even in extreme environments.

Source: John Deere, May 3, 2005