Wildland Firefighting FAQ

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Curious about wildland firefighting? Whether you’re thinking about becoming a wildland firefighter or are simply curious about what it’s like to work in the field, we’ve got you covered. Take a look at these frequently asked questions to learn more about the ins and outs of this hot career.

How do you become a wildland firefighter?

If you choose to enter this field, there are four types of employment opportunities:

  • Permanent full-time
  • Permanent part-time
  • Permanent seasonal
  • Temporary seasonal

Each agency that employs firefighters has a different hiring process. Examples of agencies you can work with include:

  • Bureau of Land Management
  • National Park Service
  • Forest Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

To find wildland firefighting jobs and to view the application requirements, visit USAjobs.gov.

What are the requirements to become a wildland firefighter?

Wildland firefighter qualifications vary depending on what position you will hold. If you are going to be out in the field as a firefighter, you will have to complete an arduous pack test in which you must complete a three-mile hike carrying a 45-lb pack in 45 minutes (without running).

Those who want to become a smokejumper must complete:

  • A 1.5-mile run in fewer than 11 minutes
  • 7 pull-ups
  • 45 sit-ups
  • 25 push-ups
  • A level terrain hike with 110-lb pack in fewer than 90 minutes

A five-minute rest is permitted between each exercise.

To become an entry-level firefighter, you also need to be 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Most applicants also have six months general experience, such as volunteer firefighting. As you move up the ranks, additional experience and/or post-secondary education or other required training is needed.

What types of jobs are available?

Wildland firefighters can work in a variety of areas. Opportunities available include:

  • Fuel crew
  • Engine crew
  • Hand crew
  • Hotshot crew
  • Helitack crew
  • Smokejumper
  • Wildland firefighter module
  • Prescribed wildland firefighter crew

Within each category comes numerous opportunities. Some standard job titles include:

  • Fire management
  • Squad leader
  • Fire operations specialist
  • Fuels planner
  • Fire staff officer
  • Pilot

Not everyone who works in wildland firefighting is out in the field. Other opportunities include jobs like dispatcher and centers manager.

What does each crew do?

Each crew mentioned above takes on different duties that play an important role in creating one, cohesive firefighting team. These duties are briefly explained here.

  • Fuel crew: The fuel crew manages any ecological fuel to reduce the chance of the fire spreading, such as by thinning timber around the fire.
  • Engine crew: Engine crew members help suppress fires by driving fire engines that can carry up to 800 gallons of water to the fire site. They also spray foam and chemicals to suppress fires and protect structures.
  • Hand crew: Hand crews aid in controlling the fire by constructing a fire line. They also burn out fire areas and clean up after an incident.
  • Hotshot crew: These crew members aid in all phases but generally take on tasks in the toughest areas of the fire. They must have at least one season of experience.
  • Helitack crew: Helitack crew members fight fires with the use of helicopters. Oftentimes, they are in charge of dropping equipment and supplies to other firefighters.
  • Smokejumper: Smokejumpers parachute from planes to fight fires in remote areas.
  • Wildland firefighter module: These crew members are responsible for planning prescribed fires as well as emergency fires.
  • Prescribed wildland firefighter crew: This crew involves a range of professionals who aid in executing planned fire projects.

What kind of hours do firefighters work, and how much does it pay?

Wildland firefighters typically work a 40-hour week, but when out in the field, work shifts may extend to 12 hours per day.

Pay depends on experience level, but it’s generally around $8-$10 to start, and extra for overtime or “hazard duty.” Pay increases as your grade level (or GS level) increases, which is determined by experience and education. Firefighters who work in areas like California, where frequent wildfires break out, are paid more.

With many facets of wildland firefighting, numerous questions arise — but now with a better understanding of the field and what’s required to enter it, you can discover more about how to become a wildland firefighter

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