Should I See a Doctor Before Becoming a Wildland Firefighter?

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The job of a wildland firefighter is taxing, both mentally and physically, but rewarding for people who enjoy a hard day’s work that makes a positive impact. If you are just getting started in a career as a wildland firefighter, there is a lot to learn — but the most important are the safety procedures affiliated with whatever position you accept. Being safe in your job as a wildland firefighter starts with ensuring that you are physically fit and medically prepared for the demands of the role. Take a look at our suggestions below.

Should I see a doctor before I become a wildland firefighter?

Yes. Whenever you start a new routine that involves physical fitness, it is imperative that a doctor take a look at you first. Even if you feel like you are in the best shape of your life, there could be underlying health risks that could become dangerous during strenuous physical activities associated with wildland firefighting. If any of the following describe you, it is even more vital you see a physician before your first day on the job as a wildland firefighter:

  • You have known heart trouble.
  • You experience occasional or frequent pain in your heart or chest.
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You suffer from stiff joints or have been officially diagnosed with arthritis.
  • You have diabetes, or it runs in your family.
  • You have high cholesterol.
  • You are a smoker.
  • You suffer from chronic headaches.

You should also set an appointment to have your vision checked, as being able to see accurately in difficult conditions (like smoke or in the dark) is a requirement of many wildland firefighter jobs. It never hurts to have an expert examine you and look over your medical history, to ensure that you are completely fit and ready for the role of a wildland firefighter. In fact, you should schedule these types of physicals annually.

What are the physical requirements of being a wildland firefighter?

Every jurisdiction has different requirements for becoming a wildland firefighter, but all agree that applicants must be in good to excellent physical condition. During the application process, physical fitness is put to the test and potential wildland firefighters must prove that they have what it takes to fulfill their job duties.

Work capacity tests are given to ensure that the firefighters-in-training have the physical and mental fortitude to withstand the fatiguing demands that accompany the job. Different wildland firefighter jobs require different levels of fitness and therefore have different tests. You can expect these tests, or something quite similar, based on the level of fitness necessary:

  • Arduous. These firefighters are doing the most strenuous tasks and are often called upon to perform extended aerobic fitness and lift more than 50 pounds. This usually requires a pack test of carrying a 45-pound pack for three miles in 45 minutes or less. Nearly all wildland firefighters fall into this category.
  • Moderate. These firefighters are called upon to lift between 25 and 50 pounds fairly regularly and must perform occasional strenuous activities. Think of safety officers, or fire behavior officers. These positions generally ask for a field test, carrying a 25-pound pack for two miles in 30 minutes.
  • Light. You won’t find many wildland firefighters in this category, but it would include office-type tasks with an occasional field activity. These firefighters must be able to walk one mile in 16 minutes or under without carrying a pack.

Many wildland firefighters will fall into the category of “arduous” work and there are two common tests that are taken either together or separately to determine the fit level for these workers. The first is a pack test and the second is a 1.5 mile run. In most cases, these tests will need to be completed annually for a wildland firefighter to remain certified. Let’s look at these tests in greater detail:

Pack test

Requirements vary but this test is almost always conducted on a three-mile course. The individual taking the test must carry a 45-pound pack for three miles in 45 minutes or less. Some states require that wildland firefighters be tested in an area with no more than a 2 percent to 3 percent slope. A backpack pump is allowed if the pack has five gallons of water and there should be no leaks in the bag. If the pack is 44.5 pounds or less at the end of the test, it is considered void.

1.5 mile run

These requirements may also vary based on jurisdiction, but in most cases the 1.5 mile run must be completed in 11 minutes 40 seconds. In some areas, only the pack test is a requirement.

What else will I need to do to become a certified wildland firefighter?

There are a lot of steps in the process of becoming officially certified as a wildland firefighter and all are designed to protect the individuals and keep them safe on the job. Some other things you’ll be expected to do, in addition to visiting a doctor for a physical examination, may include:

  • Training with manipulative skill objectives
  • Some items on this list include competency with a two-way radio, care and inspection of protective clothing, proper wearing of protective equipment, how to properly handle an air retardant drop, how to use and deploy a fire shelter, how to retrieve a fire line hose, and how to use and maintain field tools.
  • Passing written wildland firefighter tests

If it seems like there are a lot of steps to becoming a wildland firefighter, it’s because safety is of the utmost importance. Not only will you need to rely on your own strength and fitness to succeed and stay safe, but there will be an entire team that will be counting on you to be in tip-top shape. Seeing a doctor annually, staying physically fit, and taking care of your health in other ways will go a long way towards preparing you for the role of wildland firefighter.

Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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