How to Become a Wildland Firefighter
HOW TO BECOME A WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER – WHAT DO WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS DO?
Simply put, wildland firefighters are responsible for suppressing and putting out wildland and forest fires. Generally, these firefighters work with crews of people, such as the engine crew, helicopter crew, smokejumper crew, or hotshot crew. Those in the hotshot crew often make more and are responsible for cleaning up after a fire and widening fire lines with 20 other crew members. Some wildland firefighters work all-year round, while others work exclusively during fire season only. When they are not fighting fires, wildland firefighters work together to respond to public emergencies and take prevention measures to minimize the chances of fires taking place in the wilderness. Like any firefighter role, the profession involves strenuous work in stressful situations, requiring them to respond quickly and calmly in emergencies.
HOW MUCH DO WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS MAKE?
While the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have an exact number, it assumes that wildland firefighters employed by the federal government earn an average of around $50,000 a year. Earnings also vary from state-to-state.
A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BECOMING A WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER
Step 1: Know the basic requirements. Aspiring wildland firefighters in the United States should consider the following job requirements:
- Must be a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years old
- Be fit and in great shape
- Be comfortable and ready to work in any outdoor condition or situation
- Have strong outdoor skills (i.e. pitching a tent, using a chainsaw, changing a tire, using a compass, sharpening a knife, etc.)
- Be educated with the basics such as Firefighter Training, Introduction to Wilderness Fire Behavior, and other general classes in the fire science field
- Have the ability to work well as a team
- Possess strong communication skills
- Be willing to learn new things and continue education and training whenever needed
Step 2: Train early. As for training, there are two things to keep in mind: fitness and education.
- Fitness: As mentioned above, fitness is key to the profession, which means that aspirants are expected to train and pass extensive strength and endurance exams. Some training you may consider include cardio, hiking, running, and lifting weights. Outdoor fitness activities are better as training as the job takes place in the outdoors where survival skills will come in handy.
- Education: Requirements may vary from state-to-state, so it is important for those interested in becoming a wildland firefighter become familiar with them before proceeding. Those who want to stand out from the crowd may want to consider enrolling in fire science and EMT courses at community colleges or local vocational schools. These programs will generally take place in the traditional classroom, but there are also many online programs for those who require a more flexible schedule. Pursuing a fire science degree is a great way to get a solid foundation of the profession and what it entails. In addition to learning the book-material, students are required to gain hands-on experience on the job. Some experience may involve ground cover fire training, fire shelter training, and more.
Step 3: Get qualified.
To be qualified as a wildland firefighter candidate, one must pass written and physical exams. The written exam will cover general subjects including logic and mechanical reasoning, essential skills, and spatial awareness. The physical test will test an individual’s endurance and physical strength & health. Part of the test may involve completing a three-mile hike within 45 minutes in a forest area carrying approximately fifty pounds of equipment. These exams are designed to weed out candidates that are not prepared or qualified. After passing the required tests, applicants are able to move forward and complete fire academy training.
Step 4: Advance your career.
While this step is not mandatory, it is highly recommended. Generally speaking, with professions changing all the time, it is important to stay up to date on new information and protocol. Wildland firefighters can stay educated by enrolling in additional training or education. A plethora of degree programs are available in advanced subjects like public affairs, rangeland ecology, and fire management, to name a few. Higher education will open the doors to many leadership positions within the industry. In fact, upper-level promotions require firefighters to at least have a Bachelor’s degree in fire science.
GOOD TO KNOW: WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER PROS & CONS
Before making it your career, it’s smart to be aware of the pros and cons associated to being a wildland firefighter. Here are a few to keep in mind as you conduct your research and come to a final decision.
- Ability to travel different places in the country
- Shifts vary and is flexible compared to a typical 8-5 cubicle job
- Essentially, you only need a high school diploma and professional certification to be qualified
- Training is relatively short and can be as little as just three courses and professional certification
- You get to work in the outdoors and exercise on the job
- Weather can be unpredictable
- Equipment can be heavy, especially through rough terrain
- Growth within the industry is minimal; the BLS predicts only 75% growth between 2012 and 2022
- Work may not be consistent depending on season and weather
- Dangerous job and at high risk everyday when working
- Often in high-stress working environment