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.