Wildland Firefighter Qualifications

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Wildland firefighters are best-of-breed experts who are highly trained, and in exceptional physical shape. Firefighting agencies are managed under federal organizations such as the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, or Bureau of Indian Affairs. They are also managed at the state and local levels through Fish and Game, Land Management, Emergency Services, and Fire and Rescue.

Because firefighting is such a demanding occupation, work is competitive and positions rely on intense qualifications to ensure that individuals are capable of handling the job. Skilled individuals in this position must know how to prevent and manage wildfires while maintaining a safe environment, and there is little room for mistakes. Let’s take a look at the requirements necessary to qualify to be a wildland firefighter.


Prospective firefighters should plan to fortify both their physical and educational training prior to qualifying. They should maintain a high level of physical fitness, and also increase their education. Although many firefighters work seasonally and only don their boots for explicit fire seasons, year-round physical fitness is necessary to maintain peak physical condition.

Applicants may want to increase their chances of being selected for a position by first enrolling in fire science or completing emergency medical technician (EMT) courses. Endurance, outdoor experience, and any hands-on training or volunteer work will all help support a prospective firefighter’s endeavor.

Obtain an Incident Qualification Card (“Red Card”)

The Incident Qualification Card, or Red Card, is accepted as certification that an individual arriving at an incident is qualified to work in response that particular incident type. This card is used by most federal and state agencies that work in cooperation with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). Individuals who successfully completed required written tests and physical fitness tests are issued this Incident Qualification Card. Every firefighter assigned to a fire managed by a federal agency is required to have this card.

Written Test

The written test necessary to qualify generally consists of an exam that requires prospects to prove they understand the essentials of the intended job. Written tests are dispersed in the form of task books, and they contain core competencies for each position. Task books can be obtained by visiting the NWCG Publication Management System website and identifying the taskbook for the position in which you are interested.

Required Training

To become a wildland firefighter, applicants must complete required training. Even after position task books are successfully completed, trainees must complete all required training. Additional information on required training for each position can be located in the Field Manager’s Course Guide, PMS 901-1.

Physical Fitness Test

The required physical fitness test for wildland firefighters is called the Work Capacity Test. This test is designed to ensure the applicant has an adequate level of health as well as mental and physical endurance. There are three levels of qualification with unique requirements to match individuals with one of three levels of wildland firefighting: Arduous, Moderate, and Light.

  • Arduous Pack Test

This test requires a superior level of physical fitness. To qualify, individuals must successfully complete a 3-mile hike while carrying a 45-pound pack. This test must be completed within 45 minutes.

  • Moderate Field Test

This test requires a moderate level of physical fitness. To qualify, individuals must successfully complete a 2-mile hike while carrying a 25-pound pack. This test must be completed within 30 minutes.

  • Light Walk Test

This light test requires individuals to demonstrate that they can hike 1 mile, carrying no weight, in a time of 16 minutes or less.

Chosen applicants are then required to complete fire academy training, and may also need to complete additional, specialized credentials.

Wildland firefighting is a demanding and competitive job, and qualifications are required to ensure the safety of the wildland, the individual, and the team. Training courses and physical field tests are specifically created to close gaps in students’ knowledge and equip them with appropriate wildland skills to ensure success in their chosen position. 

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