How to Become a Wildland Firefighter
1. Meet the initial essentials. You must be a United States citizen and at least 18 years of age in order to work as a firefighter for federal agencies or bureaus.
- The main element of the WCT is known as the "pack test". Every firefighter must undergo the "arduous" pack test. This pack test consists of a three mile walk with a 45 pound pack. You must be able to complete it in 45 minutes or less, no jogging or running. There may be additional physical requirements, depending on the type of crew you will be joining.
- The test is administered when you first report for duty - if you don't meet the requirements for the pack test initially, you have two weeks in which to take it again and if unsuccessful the second time, you risk losing the job.
- If you're not in shape already, start training. Running (especially holding heavy weights while going up and down hill) and hiking are excellent forms of exercise training. For most agencies, the fire season starts about May so you will want to give yourself a few months of proper training ahead of time
3. See your doctor. The USFS recommends that you consult your physician before training or substantially increasing your level of activity. This is essential if you are over 40 and have been inactive, have a history of a heart condition or chest pain, or have a joint or bone problem that could worsen with a change in physical activity.
4. Being comfortable with the tools of the trade is essential
Brush up on your outdoor skills. It's an enormous help if you're familiar with the following:
- Pitching a tent
- Using a chainsaw
- Reading a topographic map
- Using a compass
- Tying knots
- Sharpening a knife
- Changing a tire
- Driving a truck with manual transmission
- Willingness to learn what you don't know how to do.
5 Improve your chances by taking classes. If you have no prior experience of wildland firefighting, there are basic classes that you may be able to complete locally. Doing these can increase your chances of being hired. The basic fire courses are S-130 Firefighter Training and S-190 Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior. Better yet, consider pursuing a degree in fire science. Contact your State Forestry agency or Community College to see if they offer any of these classes.
6 Have good team spirit. You will be expected to get along with whoever is in your crew - your life and other people's lives will depend on cooperative behavior. The job will require you to work with a wide range of people, sometimes in pairs, sometimes with teams as large as 20. Your ability to communicate well and get along with your crew members, crew supervisors and others in the wildland fire management organization is vital.
7 Make contacts. You will get a lot further in your quest to get a job by calling and stopping by the offices of fire personnel. Go into your local ranger station, whether it be a National Parks office, U.S. Forest Service station or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) station. Explain to the person at the front desk that you are interested in becoming a wildland firefighter and ask:
- Whether there are any fire personnel positions that might be available;
- Whether you can talk to someone who can help you achieve that goal;
- Ask questions like: "Which stations are hiring?" and "With my experience, what position would I qualify for?", and "Is there someone that can help me with the application process?".
8 Be persistent! If you find a station you want to work at, go visit it.
9Apply. After you have made contacts and started your process of getting in shape, it's time to apply. These are the current principal ways to apply (site links are provided under "Sources and Citations"):
- U.S. Forest Service jobs - through Avue Digital Services;
- BLM, BIA, or National Park Service (all under the Department of the Interior) - apply through USA Jobs;
- Fire Integrated Recruitment Employment Systems (FIRES): Under this hiring process you can select up to seven different locations within the Department of the Interior using one application.
- Search for jobs on these suggested pages. Type in "Firefighter", "Forestry Aid", or "Forestry Technician" in the search box and jobs should pop up on the next screen for you.
- Fill out the application forms. Be aware that filling out applications on these sites can be a little tricky due to the way in which they are worded and set up. If in any doubt, or if you're experiencing difficulties filling out the applications, ask for help from a human resource person at your local federal agency of choice's district office.
10 Once successful, prior to starting your duties, continue your training as outlined above.
In addition, find out if there is any specific training you could be doing before starting work. Other things to consider include:
Breaking in your boots. You will be supplied with most items needed (hard hat, leather gloves, fire resistant clothing, backpack, tent, etc.) but you need to purchase your own boots and the US Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that you break these in before turning up for duty!
Finding out about housing options. Finding out if housing is provided, if rental properties are nearby, etc., before turning up for duty. Ensuring that your will, power of attorney, etc., are in up-to-date order.