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  • 02/25/2015
  • meganareia
  • 8,236 views
  • 15 Comments

Hey y’all,

I’m hoping this is an alright place to post this. I have questions about being a new firefighter in general, being a female firefighter, fitness, and boots. I’ll start with a little “about me,” which you can definitely feel free to skip if you like. I’d really appreciate any advice, comments, answers, tips, criticisms… anything! to any part of this post.

So, about me. I was raised in San Diego, CA where I was mostly a sporty/tomboy city girl but spent a good amount of time camping in places like Yosemite, Zion and Yellowstone. My family did a lot of hiking and camping, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was “raised in the mountains.” I went to college at UC Berkeley, studied abroad for a year in Brazil, moved back to San Diego, and then followed some family members out to Dolores, Co (small town near Durango, Co). Out here, I’ve worked in restaurants for about a year and decided I needed a drastically different job in order to maintain my sanity. A friend recommended applying for wildland fire jobs, which really sparked my interest. I started applying and investing a great deal of energy into learning about what wildland firefighting entails (though I still know very little). I ended up getting hired onto an engine crew for the ’15 summer season and I start in April. I’ll be taking S130/190 classes next week and just bought some boots. Although I’ve been doing some research and I’ll be meeting with a female friend who’s been in the field for a few years now, I’d LOVE it if some seasoned firefighters could give me any advice they have for rookies.

The answers to some of these questions may seem obvious and I may already know them myself, but I’m going to ask them anyway so please don’t judge.

General:
What can I expect as far as hours on an engine crew during and not during fires?
What are some specific differences between work on an engine crew and work on other crews like hand crews?
Working for the Forest Service as a GS03 level employee, what can I expect as far as paycheck? How often will I get paid?
What should I expect as far as meals during and not during fires? Should I provide my own?
Will I get advance notice when leaving for a fire? Should I be ready and packed beforehand?
Should I learn to use the equipment before I start in April? What equipment specifically should I familiarize myself with?
I know how to camp, but haven’t pitched a tent or anything like that in a long time. Will I be expected to have these kinds of camping skills?
I was told I’d be provided all the equipment I’ll need other than boots, but should I have specific clothing ready other than socks?
Should I be CPR/First Aid certified?

Fitness:
Besides the pack test, are there any fitness requirements or expectations? I can run many miles at 10min/mile or one mile at about 8.5min/mile… Should I be faster? I’m a strong girl but should I be able to do a certain amount of pushups, etc?

Boots:
I am going to have some Nicks custom made but don’t have time to wait for them to arrive and break them in before April so I bought some Cosmas Hercules V2 for in the meantime. Besides La Sportivas these were the only boots I could find in my size in this area, and I know La Sportivas are known to delaminate. The Cosmas are known to fall apart but they fit me much better. Is there anything I can do to reinforce the seams or to waterproof my Cosmas?
In all the boots I tried on, whether they were the right size or not, my ankle felt very weak/sore. This ankle was broken when I was 14 – spiral fracture that I had surgery on and pins put in. It never feels weak otherwise; I think the height of the fire boots is what’s causing the weakness. Any tips for support??

Female:
I’m not sure how many women will be in my crew, but what should I expect as a female?
Female-specific: I use a cup instead of tampons. During fires, is this an ok method or should I switch to tampons/pads?
Female specific: I can pee in nature just fine, but with all the gear will it be a hassle to pop a squat when I need to?

Thanks in advance!!!!

Megan

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15 Comments
  1. hedddo
    February 25, 2015 Reply

    You can never be too fit. Start hiking up steep hills with a heavy pack now. Get the boot situation dialed in. Tape the weak ankle. Don’t make plans or expect time off during fire season. You will likely be the only woman on your engine crew. I believe a cup needs to be washed and reinserted. Best have tampons for backup. Look for sports bras and panties that are cotton. I like Thorlo socks. You can wear them for a week and they are still somewhat fresh and fluffy. You’ll get paid every two weeks–amount depends on overtime, hazard pay and other differentials. Keep your mouth shut, pay attention, act professionally and don’t try and bullshit anyone.

  2. JV
    February 26, 2015 Reply

    I’m based in the Durango area and been in fire for awhile. Would love to answer some of your questions. Email 1galleta@gmail.com. Best of luck to you. Fala português?

  3. Firechick
    February 26, 2015 Reply

    Good questions and congratulations on the new job!
    — Don’t date/sleep with any of your crew members. Resist the attraction and wait until AFTER season.
    — Your engine captain will prepare you for a fire call (order). He/She will tell you what your readiness level needs to be (on the clock it will be immediate, on days off he/she will tell you what your response time needs to be)
    — You will get tent etc. issued to you. Learn to set it up BEFORE you go on a fire. Try to be as self sufficient as you can. It’s okay to ask for help but do as much as you can for yourself.
    — You will be provided with firefighting pants/shirts. Maybe a jacket. You will have to have your own t-shirts, underwear, socks, rain shell, jacket, long johns, warm hat, ball cap. DON’T use cotton socks! Go the wool route (Smartwool are the best. Spendy but worth it).
    — If you have other women on your crew, support each other!!! Don’t fall into the queen bee syndrome. They’re your sisters, treat them like it. It’s not a competition on who can be the best chick. Be the best firefighters.
    — As a female be strong physically and mentally. But be yourself. Have fun. Don’t be afraid to be a little girly if that’s your thing. But show you can hang and be bad-ass.
    — They will teach you 1st aid/CPR if they feel it is important.
    — Cup. Depends on how often you have to empty it. Like someone else said, bring tampons as a back up (pads are not a good fit). If you use tampons and need to change out in the woods, you gotta pack them out (bring baggies and wet wipes).
    — I always take off my line gear to pee unless speed is of the essence. At least unbuckle, but then you run the risk of peeing on straps, etc!
    Good luck, have fun. I’m excited for you!
    FC

  4. techs672
    February 26, 2015 Reply

    megan writes:
    > In all the boots I tried on, whether they were the right size or not, my ankle felt
    > very weak/sore. This ankle was broken when I was 14 – spiral fracture that I had
    > surgery on and pins put in. It never feels weak otherwise; I think the height of
    > the fire boots is what’s causing the weakness. Any tips for support??

    I’m not entirely clear on what you’re experiencing, but a couple things to consider:
    • I would stay away from boots with a tall/stacked heel (i.e. western “smokejumper” or “logger” type heels) in the presence of any kind of lower leg to foot instability. The height of your foot above the ground produces a leverage that works against any stability issues. I worked in them daily for decades without any problem, but eventually wearing them less constantly and working more on harder surfaces led to trying a low-heel boot. Tremendous improvement in stability and comfort for me. You might find something similar if your old injury is a chronic/persistent challenge.
    • If this kind of boot is new/unfamiliar to you, I’d point out that sometimes you have to break in the boot, sometimes you have to break in your foot, or some of both. Don’t expect fit to be perfect out of the box, but try to make it perfect before you have to spend long day after long day in them — experiment with socks, and insoles, and don’t be afraid to skip a hook/hole when lacing or tie a knot other than at the top. Fiddle around until it’s good. You need your feet.

    For more back & forth discussion, try the Hotlist — http://hotlist.wildlandfire.com/forum.php
    Welcome to the club. Have a safe and challenging season.

  5. grl4ster
    February 27, 2015 Reply

    Keep your eyes and ears open and keep your mouth shut until you figure out who has a good vibe, then ask them those dumb questions that will come up all the time. Do not draw attention to yourself.
    There is fire code of conduct for men and women, that just is not written down anywhere, but you really just hunker down and do the work. It will take awhile for you to build credibility because you are so new to it. So listen and absorb and watch what others do for your clues for how to conduct yourself. No makeup, no perfume on the job. Not as a firefighter.
    Your first fire will feel like a big deal and it is and it isn’t. It’s the job.
    IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, ASK!!!! There is SO much lingo and jargon and that takes forever, to learn the language.
    You are off on a grand adventure! Keep a little journal. You will treasure it one day.

  6. Raven
    February 27, 2015 Reply

    Break in those boots and get proper foot beds if needed. Great advise grl4ster!

  7. anotherfiregirl
    March 3, 2015 Reply

    I’m going to assume you got hired by a federal agency.

    General:
    What can I expect as far as hours on an engine crew during and not during fires?
    40 hours/week
    What are some specific differences between work on an engine crew and work on other crews like hand crews?
    Working in different areas of a fire and sometimes different kind of work. There are areas where you can’t get an engine but you can get crews. Most likely a hand crew will do more line digging. I could probably go on for awhile about this, but you’ll figure it out.
    Working for the Forest Service as a GS03 level employee, what can I expect as far as paycheck? How often will I get paid?
    Paid every 2 weeks. Pay will depend on what locality you are in, pay tables are here – http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2015/general-schedule/
    If you are on an active fire you will get an extra 25% for hazard pay and also overtime which is time and a half. You may work up to 16 hours a day, sometimes they work you less.
    What should I expect as far as meals during and not during fires? Should I provide my own?
    They will feed you on a fire or reimburse you. You will have to feed yourself when not on fires.
    Will I get advance notice when leaving for a fire? Should I be ready and packed beforehand?
    No, you should always be ready to go.
    Should I learn to use the equipment before I start in April? What equipment specifically should I familiarize myself with?
    I wouldn’t worry about this.
    I know how to camp, but haven’t pitched a tent or anything like that in a long time. Will I be expected to have these kinds of camping skills?
    Make sure you can put up your tent and take it down, otherwise I wouldn’t worry about it.
    I was told I’d be provided all the equipment I’ll need other than boots, but should I have specific clothing ready other than socks?
    Good PT gear including some decent running shoes, socks, shirts and underwear.
    Should I be CPR/First Aid certified?
    They may provide this.

    Fitness:
    Keep running and add in some weighted pack hiking. Also push ups, sit ups and pull ups.

    Boots:
    The high heel boots kill me and I think in the long run they cause issues just like wearing high heel shoes do. I prefer the more hiking boot style.

    Female:
    I’m not sure how many women will be in my crew, but what should I expect as a female?
    I have usually been the only female, sometimes there is one other. It really hasn’t been an issue for me. A good trick I learned one of my first years. If you are working on a grass fire and there is nowhere to pee you can go on one end or on the side behind a tire of the truck and let the rest of the crew know to stay on the other end for a few because you have to pee. The guys were always nice about being lookouts for me.
    Female-specific: I use a cup instead of tampons. During fires, is this an ok method or should I switch to tampons/pads?
    I would probably switch. I think that would be a PITA to deal with.
    Female specific: I can pee in nature just fine, but with all the gear will it be a hassle to pop a squat when I need to?
    Nah.

  8. taxifolia
    March 5, 2015 Reply

    boots. start wearing them full time now and don’t stop… if the ankle continues to be a problem try a light ankle brace/wrap/different boot or? keep at it until it improves, if not consider a spots medicine MD visit if you think it will be a problem…

    gear, you will always need to be packed and ready to go, plan on how you are going to organize your “stuff” so that you can find anything in the dark etc. practice pitching your tent in the dark, wind etc. that is generally when you will do it.

    fitness, running is good but now I would consider that you need to work on upper body and hill climbing strength… steppers. etc.

    you will find out that most things work out pretty well, there is some pretty good advice in the previous posts, when I started I was almost always the only women, no big deal.

  9. bill braskey
    March 7, 2015 Reply

    That’s rad that you decided on this life. First off, im a guy and have a couple of seasons under my belt.
    1. In my experience women on the line rock it. Don’t worry.
    2. People pee. Go where you can whenever you can.
    3.when it comes to your pack: advil, Band-Aids, anti bacterial wipes are a must. You will thank me when you know.
    4. Boots refer to #3
    5.hike… Hike… Hike… Hike. No one likes stragglers
    6. Memorize your watch out situations.

  10. Mike Baines
    March 21, 2015 Reply

    Looks like you’ve gotten a lot of good advice. I want to give you just a little information I don’t expect you to need… but if you do, you have it. Sometimes situations just aren’t working out like you thought it should.. sometimes you can’t find a person you are comfortable with enough to tell them the conflict you are feeling. If you are on a major fire with a large number of federal fire fighters(generally, 300 or more), they may well have an employee at fire camp called a Human Resource Specialist (HRSP). That person is there to help in just such situations (as well as other situations). If you have not felt comfortable talking with your supervisor, I recommend you get in contact with this person quietly. You should never use talking to this person as a threat. That person will keep things confidential (as long as no laws have been broken) and give you good advice as to your options. Often, they can help resolve any conflicts. This has been my job on fires since 2000. Mutual respect among firefighters has greatly improved since I first began. There is no reason you can not have a very gratifying experience as a firefighter as long as you follow most of the advice folks have offered you on this site. As you can tell, people are truly wanting you to be successful. So do I. Best of luck and if we are on the same fire this season, drop by and say hello!

  11. Chupacabra
    April 1, 2015 Reply

    “Keep your eyes and ears open and keep your mouth shut until you figure out who has a good vibe, then ask them those dumb questions that will come up all the time. Do not draw attention to yourself.
    There is fire code of conduct for men and women, that just is not written down anywhere, but you really just hunker down and do the work. It will take awhile for you to build credibility because you are so new to it. So listen and absorb and watch what others do for your clues for how to conduct yourself. No makeup, no perfume on the job. Not as a firefighter”

    For God’s sake…very little of this is relevant. I agree about working hard, finding a trusted person that you can ask questions of, not running off at the mouth, but that’s about it. It’s highly unlikely that you will wear makeup or perfume to work (because, why) but I wouldn’t be caught dead without my favorite earrings. You don’t have to give up being female because you’re on an engine.

    Put your own sleeping bag and pad, and bag liner in your red bag; women sleep colder and those yellow sleeping bags suck. Also put some flip flops in your bag; they are comfortable for camp and the showers in camp can be gross. Organize your toiletries in ziploc bags and don’t forget babywipes and Oxy pads for your face. I recommend tampons and panty liners too; you will be dirty and cups will get dirty. Cotton underwear are a must. Back in the day I wished I had a couple of pairs of Smartwool long johns (wool is doubly good because it doesn’t stink, it keeps you warm when wet, and is soft). Put some Luna or Clif Bars in, or jerky, some Starbuck’s via coffees…

    Don’t worry about tents; most tents are pop tents and you just flip them open.

    Boots: Nicks are good but White’s are better. I wore mine all the time before I started work and one time I filled them with water and Firetrol and let them sit overnight on days off. I worked in R3 so they dried quickly and then I coated them with mink oil.

    As for PT, run and hike. Do upper body work because you’ll be dragging hose around, or backpack pumps.

    Last but not least, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t get your meat where you make your bread. Dating situations really complicate your work life. Don’t mess with your crewmembers (or your boss).

  12. Dani
    April 28, 2015 Reply

    Hey, Megan. I noticed we’re in the same neighborhood (I was the Park Point lookout at Mesa Verde for the last six years). Congratulations on the fire job! Working in fire was one of the best adventures I got to do. San Juan NF is gorgeous and has some awesome people working in fire there. I still have my packing lists and can share them with you. If you want to talk local fire stuff, shoot me an email: dani.lookout gmail.com

  13. Dani
    April 28, 2015 Reply

    There’s some great advice above!

    Boots: I tried to make Chippewa and Redwing fire boots work for years. Never got used to the heal. Switched to Scarpa Fuegos and I love them. I have narrow heals, flat feet, and a wide toe box — the typical boots were never going to work for me. I think Backcountry Experience and maybe The Pine Needle in Durango carry Fuegos for about $300. You should receive a $100 boot stipend each year to help cover the cost.
    Equipment: Be sure to examine all your equipment when it’s checked out to you. Sometimes the tents have rips, or are missing stakes. Don’t settle for a crappy headlamp (better to buy a $10 one from Walmart than use one of those clunky big plastic ones that still get handed out from fire caches — just be sure to have extra batteries for whatever you use). Chupacabra is right: the yellow sleeping bags do suck. You can get smaller, lighter bags that are much warmer. Air pads are warmer and collapse smaller than foam ones. Only caveat about having your own gear on the fire: if it gets stolen or messed up, you’re out your own money.
    Radio: If you get a Bendix King radio, learn how to program it. Learn about scanning and groups. Learn how to check and program frequencies and codes. You may not get your own radio in your first year, but these are really important skills (vital to the C in your LCES).
    Misc: If you have any medications, make sure to get 90 day prescriptions and fill them as soon as possible. It may be awhile before you get a chance to hit the pharmacy. Also, pay attention to upcoming bills (maybe set up autopay), because you could be out for 24 days, should your assignment be extended. I love New Skin in my 1st Aid kit — I use it more than ibuprofen. Put a spare pair of gloves in your pack. If the night is going to be cold and you get a chance, heat up some water, pour it in your Nalgene, and put that in your sleeping bag. I have a little metal mug that’s just big enough to wrap around the bottom of a Nalgene, so it doesn’t take up extra space. MREs contain heaters that are tiny and handy. I also have a little fleece hat for sleeping warmth. Some women do long hikes with menstrual cups, and pee on them to wash them out. Their hands probably don’t get all dirty with ash or torch fuel, though, so tampons are good, at least for a back up. Ziploc bags are awesome for all toiletry stuff.

    It sounds like you are motivated to make this work. I’m excited for you, and wish you a great season.

  14. Hilbille
    June 26, 2015 Reply
  15. Jess
    February 18, 2017 Reply

    Curious to know how the season went for you after all? Gearing up for the 2017 season as a rookie

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