How to Become a Wildland Firefighter

So you want to become a wildland firefighter but you’re not sure how to do it? Below are a few ideas to get you started.

Where do wildland firefighters come from?

Wildland firefighting outfits often recruit staff from forestry or land management organizations such as the US forest service, BLM, state forestry services, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But perhaps the best way to get your foot in the door is simply to volunteer. You can start getting some on-the-job experience right away, and many outfits such as CalFire in California or various county organizations will help put you through the required training. Some will even pay you, though it might be as little as just a few dollars for many hours of work.

What sort of education do I need?

Some high schools offer wildland firefighting classes through regional occupational programs (ROPs), which are often taught by fire crew captains or other career firefighters. For virtually all wildland firefighting positions, at least a high school diploma or GED are recommended and often required. Specific wildland firefighting training courses vary by region. CalFire requires a 120-hour course which takes place over roughly two weeks, whereas the US Forest Service requires an 80-hour course.

RedZone Liaison Doug Lannon on the Morgan Fire in Lake County, CA in 2003.

What will I get to do on my first day?

Most likely your introduction to being on a crew will involve a great deal of physical training, or what is called “PT” in the business. You’ll also go through station orientation where you get to find out such important tips such as where gear is stored on the fire engine so you’re not totally helpless when you get out in the field. Other tasks for newbies include maintaining local hiking trails, mainly to learn the tools of the trade: Shovels, McClouds, and Pulaskis.

Can I expect to work as a wildland firefighter full time?

Though positions are somewhat guaranteed from year to year, many jobs in wildland firefighting are seasonal, and are therefore limited to up to 9 months at a time (the US Forest Service limits seasonal employees to 1040 hours per year). Because of this, most wildland firefighters find a job in the offseason, while many just go on unemployment (or go snowboarding).

Who can I contact for more information?

Outfits such as US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service are a good place to start looking for federal wildland firefighter positions. Individual state groups such as CalFire, Nevada Division of Forestry, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and other State Forestry organizations may have good information for you as well.

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