Picture this: you are scaling a mountain with 50-120 pounds of food, water, and supplies on your back. You have been eating, sleeping, and living in the wilderness for days. You have little to no access to showers and your body aches, but you’re determined to get this fire under control. This is the life of a wildland firefighter.
Each role in firefighting has its own set of responsibilities that focuses on one goal – containing the fire. Wildland firefighters encounter strenuous mental and physical demands during lengthy shifts – sometimes 16+ days a time. This career involves pushing yourself to extremes, but at the end of the day, you feel the satisfaction of involvement in this honorable line of work.
If you are interested in becoming a wildland firefighter, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. Take a look at our fun, factual guide to become a part of this rewarding career.
There are a few general requirements to become a wildland firefighter. For example, you must be 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and be a U.S. citizen.
If all of those items apply, next you will need to enroll in various courses in order to qualify for wildland firefighting positions. These courses are available at community colleges, four-year universities, and vocational institutes. The following courses include: survival training, fire behavior, and incident command.
Although a college degree is not required for an entry-level wildland firefighter position, having one will help show your commitment to the role and could help advance your career later on. Some applicable degrees are: wildland fire, fire science, emergency medical technician, forestry, fire ecology, and fire technology.
Fighting fires is an extremely labor-intensive job. You will need to be in the utmost physical shape. When becoming a wildland firefighter, you will go through many strength and endurance tests in order to determine if you are capable of withstanding tough conditions. Prior to becoming a wildland firefighter, you must complete the Work Capacity Test.
The test includes: a 3-mile hike carrying 45 pounds of weight. You will have 45 minutes to complete this without running or jogging.
Your employer will require this test the first day of your new position. If you do not pass this portion, you will have to wait two weeks before retaking the test. It is recommended that all wildland firefighters maintain regular exercise consisting of cardio and weight training in order to preserve optimal physical shape.
According to this infographic, the application process includes a combination of a background check, a physiological evaluation, a medical examination, and a physical ability test. In addition, you will need to pass a written test issued by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. This is a standardized test consisting of 100 questions that assesses your spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning, and logic.
As a wildland firefighter, you could have one of many positions. Most firefighters begin as handcrews, hotshots, or engine crews. After a summer of experience, you have the option to become a helitack, smokejumper, or partake in dispatch positions.
Once you complete all of your testing, both mental and physical, it is time to find an available job. You can search for government wildland firefighter vacancies online at USAJOBS.gov, or get in touch with a private contractor. You can check with companies to see if they are in need of a wildland firefighter and what their requirements are. For non-government employment opportunities, you can visit the National Wildfire Suppression Association.
The journey to becoming a wildland firefighter is not a simple one. It takes physical and mental skills to succeed in this position. With the right academic preparation and physical training, both men and women have the opportunity to become wildland firefighters.