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Hotshot Lingo---Wildland Firefighter Idioms--Words Used in The Field

Updated on March 14, 2012

Hotshot Lingo

“Damn it Paul! I told you to hike that saw up to the north end of the saddle to see if there is a possibility of constructing a helispot below those goat-rocks but here you are, gaggled up with saw-team four, sitting down, T.U. in the shade--what gives?”

Like many lines of work, hotshots and other wildland firefighters have certain words and phrases that only those in the field would know and use. It is vital to have a common terminology on the fire-line to facilitate communications. Obviously, it could be downright dangerous to not understand what your captain or squad boss is telling (or yelling at) you during an intense situation on the fireline. Also, it is just plain fun to talk the fire-talk.

Since I am a hotshot firefighter and the perennial fledgling writer, I thought I would hit two birds with one stone today and write about some common hotshot words and phrases. Giving you a few examples of hotshot jargon that may be heard while trapped in station or while hiking out to the fireline.

Imagine--you are one of twenty, sweaty souls, weaving your way along a blackened mountainside, spaced out like ants, marching from the precipice of a one-way helispot, your leather boots with their thick Vibram souls kicking up ash and soot, moving along a steep slope devoured by a violent deflagration---when suddenly the command “RTO” hastily makes it way from the front of the line. Reverse Tool Order baby! Something is happening up in the front and you need to turn around and vamoose in a quick and orderly fashion.

These following phrases should be of interest to the hotshot, any wild-land firefighter, or a confused family member who can’t understand why their wildland firefighter says, “copy that” when you tell them to take out the trash.

But First a little disclaimer: The words and phrases I chose today are by no means the only used in the hotshot world and not the most technical---and I am sure that hotshot lingo varies by region and by crew. For instance the Midnight-sun hotshot crew probably has different local lingo for their various fuel types in Alaska and the same goes for the Los Padres hotshots in Southern California, and both crews surely have their own colloquial expressions created through crew experiences and traditions. Here, I am trying to narrow down some of the more common expressions. Maybe if you are fluent in the wildland firefighter idiom and perhaps a specialist in regional firefighter dialect you may be able to pinpoint my neck of the woods.


Pronounced like the sup in superintendent and that makes sense because that is where the phrase comes from.

Used in a sentence:

“Hey Jose, have you seen Rob? Or is he still doing lookout-training, getting a tan, and eating Doritos up on the sup-rock with Adrian?

A “sup-rock” is located high up on a mountainside, sometimes the summit, a spot with a great vantage of the fire and where the crew is working. The superintendent, is the highest ranking firefighter on a hotshot crew and their job is to have the “big eyes,” so that he can see the “big picture.” The safety of the crew is his number-one priority. So, for this reason a superintendent has to find a good “sup-rock” to coordinate the actions of the crew according to the current fire behavior perched on his vantage high above the crew below. Being positioned on a “sup-rock” is a huge responsibility but also a great place to get a tan and get good AM radio reception, with current news and sports to relay to the crew with the intent to help raise the moral of the monkeys working below.


Used in a sentence:

“Damn it I want to talk with saw team 3 about going out Cumbia dancing at Aldo’s on Friday but our squad boss-trainee might catch us gaggling again.”

I don’t know why but people generally want to bunch together and unfortunately, when it is part of the job to be lined out patrolling the fireline alone, the urge for hotshots to come together or, “gaggle” is incredibly strong. Hotshots are close friends and want to be together joking around and that leads to the behavioral problem of gaggling. And gaggling is a common way to get a supervisor angry---or let the fire spot across the line. That is why there is a code on the fireline and if you hear a “coo coo, coo coo” you know it is time to break up the gaggle and patrol your piece of line because a squad boss, captain or sup is heading up the fireline to make sure the guys are moving around with “eyes in the green.” Any thing more then three hotshots bunched up is a gaggle--unless they are “overhead.”

“Eyes in the green”

Used in a sentence:

“Keep your “eyes in the green” fellahs, those junipers are sending a lot of embers over the line.”

One of the most important jobs on the line, after having completed cutting a fire-line, or performing a burnout on a designated piece of line, is to keep “eyes in the green.” When one hears this command that means its time to turn your back to the fire and scan the unburned-green looking for duffers (small embers that start smoking in punky logs) or larger spot fires on the wrongs side of the line. This is especially the case when the wind is blowing over the fire line towards the green. Again, this can cause some conflict in the hotshot. Hotshots tend to be curious pyromaniacs who salivate at flames. That is why “keep your eyes in the green fellahs” is a harde command to follow. The hotshot needs to overcome the urge to stare into the flames and be content with just listening to the roar and feeling heat at their back.


Used in a sentence:

“Hey Chuck make sure you keep an eye on Beto because he looks like he is about to go T.U.”

This is an acronym for, “tits up” or “Chis Chis pa’riba” in Spanish. Almost self-explanatory, if you go T.U. you become useless. Someone who goes T.U. is not having a good day and hopefully doesn’t have to be flown off the fire line, but unfortunately, that is a real possibility. An hotshot has to stay on top of her game, eating right, keeping very hydrated and having trained hard as to never go “T.U. on the fire-line.

“Two More Chains”

Used in a sentence:

“Keep it up saws--only “two more chains” and we tie this bastard in.

A well known phrase amongst hotshots, donkeys and mules. If you hear this seemingly encouraging phrase you are to believe you have only 132 feet left to tie-in and finish your piece of fire-line (a chain is 66 feet or 22 yards) ) This is what overhead tells you, “two more chains. ” This is not true, never is. It does mean you are getting closer, but count on more then 2 chains of hard line-cutting before you get a break---don’t go T.U. now, only two chains left!


Used in a sentence-


I thought I would end to day with, “bump.”


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    • lorddraven2000 profile image

      Sam Little 

      6 years ago from Wheelwright KY

      Very good hub! I am a firefighter and I find probies in the field get more confused with how we speak than a nerd who just got asked out by the prom queen.

    • PaulStaley1 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from With the wind---(or against it)

      Copy that?


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