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Firefighter  Suggestions
For Those Wanting to Become a Wildland Firefighter

Date on theysaid Suggestion
1/18/05 To All Who Use Avue:

I recently applied for a FS job through Avue Digital Services and found there to be Glitches in the system! Let me give you a little background;

I detailed into the job as Supervisory Tech for a District 20 person crew for 120, at which time they flew the announcement. I applied and thoroughly checked all the KSA responses. They ended up extending the announcement for another 14 days, at which time I made some edits. The job closed and one month later, my boss tells me that I did not make the quality cert! Wow, what a blow. Did I mention that 4 other local individuals that applied did not make it either? Well, I happen to know everyone who applied and we did some comparing. Low and behold... my answers are the same as another person who made the quality cert, who I might add, may get the job! I tried everything I could with personnel to work on this, but no luck. They say they cannot override this system! Well, since when do we let some computer decide who is the best candidate for a job. They kept telling me that I must have answered wrong and there are no glitches with the system! I beg to differ! I have been in this job for 10+ years, I know the job, the whole job and have been with this crew the whole time. I have the union working on this, but unfortunately, they may have already offered the position to someone else. I just want to put the word out that if you are trying to apply using Avue, be very careful! Until they fix the system, the same thing may happen to you.

1/13/05 To those applying for federal jobs:

Make sure that when you fill out applications online that you are careful to check your application for mistakes. I just spent half an hour on the phone trying to rectify a mistake I submitted. Because of this, I probably won't even be considered for a job that I am qualified for. Don't mean to scare you, but heads up when filling out online applications - once the computer sorts you out, it is almost impossible to override it.

Should've known better -
12/10/04 To anyone planning on applying on the BLM quickhire website, make sure you
do not exceed the max number of characters allowed. I had to type my
resume approximately 15 times before it occurred to me why my resume
was not being saved. 500 characters means 500 characters.

Thanks, good luck
  Jason's Q & A's about what to do when you hear back that your app is evaluated and you are eligible
Jason – I’m currently doing the same thing as you.. Here are some tips that will make things go smoothly for you.
  1. Have your transcripts ready. After my interview with the selecting official, Human Resources demanded I provide them within 48 hours on a Friday night. (This meant digging in garage all weekend – a sunny weekend in Seattle L)
  2. Answer your telephone, or cell phone with phone courtesy, “Good Morning, Afternoon, Evening – This is Jason.” (Impressions are a big deal. Use call forwarding if you must.) 
  3. Check your email often, besides fire fighting I received 4 emails asking if I wanted to be a 0025. (LE/EMS) After interviewing for a fire job human resources did nothing but email me.
  4. Have a list of all your strengths, qualifications, and desires. Go to or for interviewing tips.
  5. Have a list of all your questions for any hiring official.
    • (Example) When I was called they said, “Well we have a fire fighting position that has a lot of indoor admin time, about 50% of it is admin.” I said, “Well what is the other 50%?” Answer: Eatin smoke. *No problem. For me.
    • My first question: “Got housing?”
    • Got Engines? (don’t hold it against me.)
    • What cell phones work out there? (I’m an only child and of course I have to call mom…)
    • Resources (engines, crews, dozers)
    • Training?
    • OT hours last season was? (I’m paying out-of-state fees for school. Please a lot of OT! *crosses fingers*)
    • Going out of state any for details??
    • Fuels in local area?
    • Initial Attack?
    • Stuck on the forest?
  6. Have an idea of what you will or will not do. I.E. “I’m from Washington and I’m not going to Kansas unless there is gov’t housing, and I’m at least GS-03.”

Another important thing is be business like and professional. Have your boots ready – If that means you drive to Spokane for smokejumpers then hey – a road trip never hurt. Don’t forget to pile some rocks into your pack and start practicing for your pack test. At GS-04 you may have only 3 to 5 weeks to get ready for your season. Sample: Interview March 3rd – Season starts April 1st (ouch) .

Good Luck, Take Care – Stay Safe.

Another Jason from PS

Thanks Jason. Ab adds: If you delight in creative phone messages, for the time being change it to a business-like message.

2/21 Jason,

In regards to your post of 2/21, as a long time Hotshot Captain my preference is for folks to call and set up an interview with me prior to my hiring them. Phone interviews should be a last resort. I always felt that if a person wanted the job bad enough they would make the effort to call and set up an appointment to put a face with the cold list we use to select from.

Now that I am a BC, my direction to my Captains is to not hire anyone sight unseen. I encourage them to interview in person all potential candidates.

What are we looking for? Honesty, integrity and the willingness to do what it takes to achieve your goals. Don't be afraid to tell the individuals where else you have applied if they ask.

I would contact Captains where I would like to work via phone and set up an interview and ask them if they would like a resume sent to them. A short resume when you show up for the interview to leave with them is a good touch.

Follow-ups are essential, either phone or in person. It shows you still have interest in the position. If you do accept a job offer, courtesy call the other folks you interviewed with and let them know.

My 2 cents..........

2/21 Good Morning All,

"Your application for the position of Forestry Technician (hotshot/handcrew),
GS-0462-04 at Nationwide has been evaluated. You were found to be eligible for
the position and your name was referred to the selecting official. If interviews
are conducted or additional information is needed, the selecting official or
someone from the Human Resources office will contact you."

Ok so I got an email with this inside today. I like what it says, but now my question is how can I increase my chances of getting an interview? Should I mail my resume out to stations I'm interested in? Go in person? What should I say or ask? I really want to get hired this season, I've been checking for jobs since like end of November and I've applied to BLM, NPS, and USFS. I just feel this is the career for me and I need to get started on it to show what I can bring to the table. Thanks guys, I'd really appreciate the help.


  Billie f's Question and Ab's Answer:
to abercrombie,

I am trying to become a wildland firefighter. I did not apply this summer due to some advice from a friend. I was told that if i finish my degree in forestry i would have more options.

I have a few questions:

I have been looking at some of the wildland fire fighter job ads and trying to understand what the categories mean. Some say gs-462-3, firefighter T101 and some say gs-462-3, engine T101; what is this difference?

What is the difference between gs-462-3, engine T-101 and gs-462-4, engine 106 besides pay level?

What is a redcard and how can i get one?

Are there training classes held in northern California?

When usfs starts hiring next year for seasonals should i call individual ranger units and express my desire to work for them on top of the normal application process?

What are some good physical exercises and goals that will help me prepare physically for next season.?

Thank you for your time
Billy f

Just taking a look under nationwide full time seasonal jobs, I think the letters/ numbers like engine T101 are simply part of the vacancy announcement number. GS is important and relates to status and pay, series is important. It is a bit complicated with forestry tech series (462), range tech series (455), professional biologist series (401) etc, different fire jobs within those series (eg, firefighter, engine hotshot, etc) and different GS levels.

Here's Redcard information and answers to other job questions about training, etc.

You will be provided with basic training when you're hired. If you have time, you can find ROP (free) training in northern CA. Those who get the basics have a much better chance of being hired than those who do not as R Ty O recently demonstrated. (His attitude and persistence helped too.)

Call, visit, express an interest and be persistent with selling yourself. Look through the list of questions and answers below.

Maybe someone will offer some good physical exercises and goals. You will have to pass the Work Capacity Test, arduous level (walk 3 miles carrying 45 lb in 45 minutes). It's important to be in shape.

Ross's Question and Firefighters' Answers:
6/13/03 Dear Sir or Mam,

I'll be in my last year of high school next year and am a good student. I am finishing my eagle scout badge in Boy Scouts. I love the outdoors and working and hiking hard. I have worked on a few projects cutting brush to make places less likely to burn after a big fire in our area of california a few years ago. I am very interested in working in a forest service fire career. My grandad was forest service. Someone told me a little about an apprenticeship program for firefighters but he didn't know much. I know lots of people a little older than me are asking you about how to get jobs, but I hope someone can tell me about this program. He said you can sometimes go right after high school if you have my kind of background.

Thank you, and I hope I am being pleasantly aggressive.
Replies to Ross
6/13/03 Ross:

I keep plugging volunteer fire departments, but that might be a very good place to start. There’s two guys in my department not much older than you; they aren’t full firefighters or even formal trainees, but they hang around the station, play victim for EMS training, help out with keeping the trucks and equipment in order, and generally make (useful) pests out of themselves. The thing is, as soon as they get old enough, they’ll have a huge head start on ‘real’ training, because they’ve seen how things are done so many times. Besides, if you can get a chief to sign off on so many hours of volunteer work, you might be able to talk your school into giving you some kind of credit, not to mention looking very good on college apps.

Nerd on the Fireline
6/13/03 Ross,

There is an apprenticeship program. There is also a student employment program called STEP. You can find out more about that at the USDA Forest Service website or you can call and ask. I think the number is 1-877-813-3476 (M-F, 8:00-4:30 Mountain Standard Time). Also, just try calling up a crewboss in you area (if there is one.) Best to contact them in the fall. They are usually pretty willing to answer questions. Good luck.


The website for the R5 Apprenticeship Program will be up toward the end of the summer. Training takes place in the winter. Contact Ab if you'd like a contact person to talk to about this federal program.
6/13/03 Ross,
Go for it!!!!

We need people like you and I wish I could hire you right now but I am now a retired FMO.

33 years ago I got my first seasonal firefighter job (with the NPS) because I was a "packer" at a Boy Scout camp in a national park. I was aggressive with park management about my interest to work for them and it paid off with a real live job.

Maintain yourself in top physical shape, take all the training you can (even online), work for a VFD (never mind the yee-haw), brag about being an Eagle Scout on your application! It will pay off! We need you and folks like you!

FMO's? (FMO= Fire Management Officer)
6/13/03 Ross,
Does your high school, or other local high school offer an ROP (Regional Occupational Program) with a fire focus-or do you have any community colleges in your area with some fire classes? Sounds like you are on the right track, training in this area would give you an addtl boost.

To find those opportunities for CA take a look on the links page under education: ROP and 2 & 4 yr schools. Ab.
6/14/03 Ross- Great to hear from a Boy Scout!

A few options for you.
First, stay in school! The better the education you have, the better opportunities will be there for you. As you grow in your career and want to become a Chief Officer you're going to be needing that Bachelor's degree or better.

Second, talk to the local Division or Battalion Chief on your local Forest District. You didn't say where you lived in California, but if you're in So. Cal. say so in your next post and i'll point you in the right direction.

I was an Eagle Scout too, and that's how I started seasonally for the Forest Service 30 years ago. The personal touch still goes a long way and a little chat will help you get your bearings. I did end up going to work for a contract county fire department after the first 5 and a half years but have stayed active in wildfire ever since. So don't discount other organizations like Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Marin, or Kern County for a great career with wildfire. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) is an exceptional organization too, despite the State's current budget troubles. You'll find the State and Counties pay career people significantly more. Sadly, Federal jobs don't pay their career people near what their good firefighters deserve. But some of the best experience opportunities and excitement for a young man could be as a seasonal with federal crew, especially a Hot Shot crew or other active and highly trained unit.

Look for some seasonal work as you leave high school for a start, but be sure you're back in college during the off season!

Good luck!!
6/14/03 Hey Ross,

Check out this site.
Go to the bottom and click on R1 Great Northern Fire Crew.
There is lots of info and its a great place to start your fire career.

BBSMJB (Bring Back the SmokeJumper Bases)
6/15/03 To the young man who is working on his eagle scout. It is very possible to get into the apprenticeship program. My husband started just last year on a college hand crew. It was the best thing he ever fell into! You said you are in california... if you have the ability to check out the wildland fire program at Antelope Valley College, the man to speak with is Karl Smith. My husband took some excellent classes taught by fantastic people, and was on their crew last summer. We then applied to the apprenticeship program. With his fire classes, and his eight years of active duty military, he was offered a full time apprenticeship position at a Northern California Forest. 

Once your application is accepted into the forest service system. Make a copy of that letter, and send it along with a copy of your resume, and a letter introducing yourself to EVERY ranger district you chose. This is important, it makes you more than just a name on a list. And I agree with what another poster said...Use your Eagle Scout as your advantage.

Good Luck, Dreams do come true!
  R Ty O's Question #1 and Firefighters' Answers:
5/29/03 I am trying to find a job working as a wildland firefighter. I will be getting the basic training the week of June 16th. I was told that a man named Pappy had listed a link to all of the places that were still looking for crew members, and I looked for his name but I could not find it. I am willing to move anywhere in the states and can leave as soon as I am done with the training. If there is any information out there that could help me, that would be great. Firefighting is what I want to do with my life and I am trying to get the word out. I am also willing to start working when all of the students go back to school in August.

Thanks for your help,
R Ty O
5/29/03 That post sometime last week was by Papa. Here's the url. (no longer works)
Good luck with continuing in your efforts. Excellent that you created an opportunity for acquiring the basics. Keep up your physical training. Your name has got to be on the most recent "list" that goes out to the forests.
Your dogged persistence will pay off.
  R Ty O's Question #2 and Firefighters' Answers:
6/6/03 I will be getting the basic firefighting training through a local tribe (Hoopa tribe). My understanding is that getting trained means there is a better chance for a career in the Federal Forest Service.

I was wondering if anyone had any information on working for tribes. To me it sounds fine just like any other firefighting group and I would love to take the opportunity if I am given the job I applied for. Does the government fund them as well or does their funding come from the tribe's sources? What is the pay difference if there is one? Just general information would be great if anyone wants to take the time. I will probably be finding some of these things out if not all of them on my own. I am just trying to get a heads up before I walk into an interview or show up for the training.

Suggestions for any other questions I should ask?

R. Ty O.
6/1/03 R Ty O,

About working with the Hoopa:
Pay is probably similar. Don't know funding sources, but some (or meebe all?) comes from the federal govt.

You would see and work a lot of fire. Last year I think they had in excess of 260 fires up there. A lot of fires are arson and the tribe is trying to put the kaibash on those but they have to be fought small or larger. Last year's Supply Creek Fire, well it kinda like freaked people out and they almost banned that arsonist from the tribe, tough stuff today given how common and kinda accepted burning was in the past. No more. They're on the warpath. Seem to be in a "whup those firestarters asses" mode right now.

The reason you're unlikely to be offered a firefighter job (unless you're Hoopa) is that the tribe preferentially hires Hoopas. I think they currently have 2 engines= 6 firefighters and would like an additional engine but are unlikely to get it this season, but that would still only involve 9 firefighters. I am fairly sure they have many indians wanting those 6 or 9 jobs.

If you were to get a job on the res, you asked what might be different and what would be the chance of working for the FS after that.

Different: When fighting fire on the res, the tribe doesn't have to follow the work:rest guidelines like the rest of us. They also are not subject to changes brought about by 30 mi. This means they're more into "rolling their own" rules which may or may not be less safe. Don't need to cowtow to the enviros to take down a hazard tree. When dispatched to a fire managed by the federales, however, they follow the same rulz we do. Whatever the case with rulz, you need to learn to watch out for your own safety, LCES, maintain situational awareness, stay rested enuf, it's all your lookout even if you have a mentor. Your life is in YOUR hands! Watch out for the unexpected though.

Crossing over to the FS later: Training is GOOD, get it. Could definitely cross over later. I know one person that did a season with Hoopa and got hired FS this year. you'd have to go through the hiring process again for next season like everyone else, but good fire training and experience always help land the next job. And you might get into one sooner this season that comes open someplace if you have the training.

Ok, enuf of the enticements. Hope they help.
Lower Trinity
  Question from Lu, a grandparent of a 17 yr old who wants to fight fire to earn money for college:
06/08 Hi, I am curious to know if the base camp at Susanville (sends firefighters out all around the country or do they basically stay on the western side of the US? Is this the closest base camp to Spokane, Washington?

Also, what is daily base camp life like? Who prepares the meals? Is there an established camp there with sleeping accommodations & provisions? When there is no fire for them to fight, are they free to leave camp? How many firefighters work out of the camp?

Also, how long is training to learn how to parachute into fire areas? Are there any prerequisites to becoming a "smoke jumper?" how dangerous is it?

I have a 17 year old grandson who is talking about the good money to be earned, just working from late spring to fall. He feels it would give him a good nest egg for college in 2005. I am concerned about the conditions at the camp and the training beginners get.

If I get a favorable response from you I would like to look into this further - can you direct me to a site/sites where I could learn more about the basics and how a parent/grandparent could track (on the internet) what fires are current & if a family member is put on a certain fire.

thanks so much for anything you can help me with,

Lu H
06/08 Lu, here are a couple of quick answers to some of your questions:

To be a smokejumper, you must be an experienced wildland firefighter and then go through extensive jumper training. It is not for beginners. To find out about smokejumpers, try this site... Smokejumpers are a "shared national resource". They travel to remote, inaccessible areas all over the US to fight wildfire.

I imagine your grandson is talking about temporary, seasonal firefighting work with a federal agency since they're the largest hirers (ex, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service). If so, he'd be hired to work on a handcrew or engine crew at a local Forest or BLM "duty station". He's likely to be dispatched from there with his crew to fight fires out of the area or out of the state. Wildland firefighting assignments can take crews to some of the most beautiful country in the U.S. and they get paid for it. With overtime, the money can add up especially from a young person's perspective. Some crew members finance their college education fighting fire. However, the beautiful country where fires burn is often rugged and remote... and potentially dangerous when it's afire. Hours can be long and strenuous. Then sometimes you just "wait a lot".

The FFI training in which I've participated is excellent. It stresses safety, how to stay safe. However, if your grandson is not the outdoorsy type or is not in excellent physical shape, he may be a poor candidate for this kind of job. For a successful experience as in all jobs, the relationship between the person and job must be a "good fit". If the fit is right, he could have the most rewarding experience of his life. Suggest that he go to the location he's interested in and talk to the firefighters there. He could treat it as an "informational" job interview.

Here's info on FS firefighter employment and the hiring site for the Forest Service and for the BLM Training is done by the agency. You can look a post I did on 6/5 in response to Kirby to get some few details on the training required for the intro level qualifications -- Firefighter I. In addition to relying on themselves, novice firefighters must also rely on their more experienced squad bosses and crew supervisors or on their engine captains. There is lots of on-the-job training, both formal and informal. To get a feel for the wider fire community, browse the FS Fire and Aviation site. Fire is "interagency", but that's a good place to start.

Sometimes it is not possible to know where your family member is fighting fire unless they call and tell you... and sometimes that's hard to do from remote sites. Their "duty station" forest will probably know where they were dispatched first, but their crew might be sent on after that first location. Some of the family members who write in to our familysaid web page during the season know more about tracking their family members than firefighters do. Undoubtedly you can get some more answers to questions from them as the season gets underway. Pop over to the familysaid page in a few weeks and ask those good folks. Browse back through their suggestions from seasons past. As far as the resources we maintain on, if you are able to find out a fire's name, you can take a look at our running list of Large Fires on the web, 2003 (or 2004) linked at the top of Links page under Miscellaneous. You can read the National Fire Situation Report, the NIFC Large Fire website, the southwest or southern CA news and notes pages, all linked from our Links Page, button in our header. You can follow some fires via our News Page also linked in our header. Clearly not much for this season is up on the web yet but there are signs that things are heating up.

  Klancy's Questions about the REDCARD:
6/5/03 Hi,

I've called the local Interagency Dispatch, the BLM, and all the other organizations that scream for firefighters but when I ask them how to become one, they have all been completely inept to answer my question.

"So, I need a redcard, but where and how do I get one?"

They have absolutely no idea, but are happy to give me lots of numbers of state employment agencies that will give me other numbers and do anything but answer my simple question.

I've hunted online, but the net isn't more helpful.

Do you have any recommendations for me?
  Replies to Klancy about the REDCARD
2/05 Updated info:

Here's a good site that talks about red cards:

6/5/03 Klancy,

The redcard is a small printout of an individual's current wildland fire qualifications; it's part of the wildland fire qualification system used by federal - and most state - wildland fire management agencies. All firefighters assigned to a fire which is managed by a federal agency (US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife & Bureau of Indian Affairs) are required to have a redcard. Many states require this as well. You could say it’s like a drivers license in that it indicates across jurisdictions that the the card's owner has fulfilled all the course work and training required to hold a particular wildland firefighting position and that their qualifications are current.

If you can slog thru it, the 310-1 (NWCG Wildland and Prescribed Fire Qualifications System Guide, in pdf), especially pp 1-11, lists the steps required to earn a redcard and advance through the system to higher qualifications... and greater responsibilities. See our Links page under training and education for a link to the 310-1.

To get a job at the entry firefighter level, you have to take several classes and pass the fitness requirement:
S-130, Firefighter Survival Training;
S-190, Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior; and
I-100, Introduction to the Incident Command System.
Topics cover everything from memorizing the 10 fire commands, 18 watchout situations, and LCES to "book learning" on fire behavior and how the "chain of command" works. Completing these basic courses usually takes a week.
Finally, you have to pass the wildland fire fitness test -- the Work Capacity Test, formerly known as the Pack Test. For links to some of these topics, see the Links page under safety and the Site Map for Brauneis' "Original Intent" 10 Standard Fire Orders.
Once you have the Redcard, you must take a refresher every year as a minimum:
Standards for Survival
- a class that re-emphasizes the importance of safety on the fireline and includes a practice fire shelter deployment.

(Other beginning training/skills that I feel are invaluable for young firefighters if you can find the training opportunities include: Public Safety First Aid, CPR, rope and rescue techniques, orienteering or topographical map use and familiarization.)

How can you get the beginning training? Here are a number of options:
  • Easiest way is to get hired by one of the federal agencies as a wildland firefighter, or by one of the states. Once hired, you will be trained. See the Jobs page for links to the federal agencies' jobs pages. Use the Links page under state agencies to find information about jobs in your state. Apply beginning in January for the best chance of getting hired for the fire season. Often lists of potential employees are made up by April or May. If you're not hired by early summer, try to get the training some other way and/or hang in there until people drop out, either because they can't make it or because they have to go back to school. People who work the first season are given preference for rehire the next year, even if hired in August.
  • Take the required basic classes at a 2 or 4 year school or in an occupational program.
  • Get hired by one of the many contract firefighting companies who will train you. (It is reported that some contractors retain control of individual firefighter's redcards so their employees can't "jump ship". You might check the company's policy before you begin working for them.)
    Most good reputable contractors belong to one of the associations like NWSA, which you can find linked on our Classifieds page. An association like NWSA provides quality training for its member companies' employees.
  • Pay and take the basic training with a qualified solo trainer. Some of them advertise on our Classifieds page under consulting.

It is a bit complicated. Read the theysaid website. Ask questions. Be persistent. You must cultivate "the art of being pleasantly aggressive" if you really want to get that first job.

Good luck.

6/8/03 Ab,

this is a great service and forum you provide, i check they said right after the sit report each morning. you are correct in telling those who are looking for fire jobs to be persistent.... this is the most important step to take, however flexibility and patience must rank a close second. be willing to move, be content with being on an engine before you're jumping fires or on a shot crew, take your time to learn the ropes..... even a trail crew job or volunteer work can be a major step in acquiring the position you desire. it sounds corny but it will finally happen with hard work and a good attitude.


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