How to Get in Shape the Right Way to Become a Wildland Firefighter

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Are you thinking about becoming a wildland firefighter? On the one hand, you’ll need proper experience. For instance, entry-level firefighters must be 18 years of age with a high school diploma or equivalent level of education, and most have at least six months of experience, such as volunteer firefighting.

But you can’t enter the field with tactical knowledge alone. Wildland firefighters must be in top physical condition in order to perform their jobs effectively. If you’re serious about wildland firefighting, consider this information about the job’s physical requirements and how to get in shape.

Physical Requirements

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are three levels of physical requirements for firefighters. Depending on the type of job you’re taking on, your physical fitness test requirements will vary. One of these tests is the “pack test” as outlined below:

  • Arduous: Those in this category perform above-average endurance and conditioning tasks. This includes firefighters, strike team leaders, and line scouts. They must be able to complete a 3-mile hike with a 45-lb pack in 45 minutes.
  • Moderate: This category is for field workers who do a considerable amount of walking, including safety officers and fire behavior analysts. They must complete a 2-mile hike with a 35-lb pack in 30 minutes.
  • Light: The light pack test is for workers who perform office-based tasks or do minimal activity in the field, such as helibase and staging area managers. They must complete a 1-mile hike in 16 minutes.

Running or jogging is not permitted during the pack test.

Some forms of firefighting may come with additional fitness requirements. For instance, smokejumpers must complete seven pull-ups, 45 sit-ups, 25 push-ups, and a 1.5-mile run in fewer than 11 minutes. If you plan on being out in the field at all, being physically fit is a must.

How to Get in Shape

With fitness requirements like these, one might wonder how you can get in shape for these tests and for field work. Luckily, there’s a program designed just for this purpose. It’s called the FireFit program.

It’s designed as a comprehensive program that promotes firefighter health and safety with the hope of reducing injuries. While the program can be tweaked by local units, you’ll find guidelines outlining fitness regimens for pre-season, fire-season, and post-season.

Since you’re just starting out, you’ll be focusing on the pre-season fitness module, but don’t forget about the other two as the season begins and ends. You’ll want to stay in shape during the season as well as maintain your regimen for next season.

Before Training

Before you jump into your training regimen, it’s recommended that you undergo a health screening test with your physician. This will minimize the chance of injury should a health concern arise.

Now is also the time to set goals for yourself and make a commitment to your team. Consider where your training will take place, and set a schedule for yourself. If you need a helping hand to stay organized and on top of your workouts, consider having a friend or fellow firefighter work out with you.

Finally, make sure you’re beginning your training program with the right equipment. Poor footwear can increase your chance of injury, so be sure you’re equipped with the proper training apparel.

Pre-Season FireFit Module

This training program lasts a total of 8 weeks, but if this is your first season, it’s worth working on getting in shape sooner – the module is designed to take you from the post-season maintenance program through the fire season module.

The first 6 weeks of this program consist of “ramping up” while the last two weeks provide more of a transition period into the fire season. This phase focuses both on the physical and mental components of fitness and continues to encourage flexibility as with all the modules.

The recommendations for this fitness period include:

  • Cardiovascular: It’s recommended that you engage in cardiovascular activity 4-6 times per week for 30-60 minutes at a time. Your intensity level should be between 70-85 percent of your established Target Heart Rate (THR). Allow yourself 1-2 days of rest per week. If you are just beginning the program, start with 4 days of cardiovascular activity per week at 30 minutes per day and 70 percent THR. In the last two weeks before fire season, it’s recommended that you increase your activity level to 5-6 sessions per week in which you include work-specific activities in your sessions, such as pack hiking.
  • Muscle Strength: Recommendations say that you should begin your strength workouts twice per week for the first two weeks. Later, increase to 3 times per week. During each workout, lift 70-90 percent of your maximum strength, and do 8-12 repetitions with 1-3 sets. Be sure to give yourself a 1-2 minute rest between sets and to rest for 48 hours between workouts.
  • Muscle Endurance: In the last two weeks leading up to the fire season, you should modify your strength workouts to focus on endurance. Lift 50-70 percent of your maximum weight, but increase your reps to 12-20 for 1-3 sets. Allow one-minute breaks between sets, and increase your sessions to 3-4 days per week.
  • Flexibility: Begin each workout with a low-level warm-up activity such as jogging. At the end of each workout, perform static stretches, holding each one for 20-30 seconds without bouncing.
  • Rest: Allow your body 1-2 days of rest per week during this module. On your rest days, engage in light or no activity. Your body needs time to recuperate!

Following this training program as outlined here will help reduce your chance of injury. Many injuries occur at the beginning of the fire season due to poor training preparation and even overuse (which is why it’s recommended that you give yourself rest days). Many of these injuries can be avoided by warming up, stretching, and wearing the proper shoes for the task.

Are you ready to become a wildland firefighter? How will you use this information to your advantage to train to become one?

Photo Credit: Charles Schug
Prescott, Arizona, USA - August 31, 2013: A firefighter performs chin-ups in the CrossFit tribute WOD - workout of the day - for the 19 fallen Hotshots smokejumpers who died in the 2013 Yarnell, Arizona wildfire. He elected to perform the WOD in full work dress in honor of his fallen comrades. The public tribute and memorial fundraiser was held at the Captain CrossFit Training Center, who helped sponsor the event along with Rogue Fitness and the city of Prescott. Donations directly funded assistance to the families of the fallen Hotshots. The CrossFit theme for the event was fitting because members of the Hotshots subscribed to the fitness regimen.

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