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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
The recommendations for this
fitness period include:
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
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.
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: Bureau of Lane Management, Vegas Valley Handcrew