Wildland firefighting and field work demands a high level of muscular and cardiovascular fitness to perform safely in difficult environments. Being prepared to work in steep terrain, extreme temperatures, high altitude and smoke, while maintaining a reserve work capacity to meet unforeseen emergencies, is critical for wildland firefighters.
Wildland firefighters are required to be:
- Highly motivated with a strong work ethic
- Strongly committed. Fire is a full time job that requires an enormous amount of time
- Physically fit when reporting to work
- Not afraid to sleep in the dirt and be unable to shower daily
Wildland firefighter requirements:
- U.S. citizenship
- Valid driver’s license
- 18 years old when reporting to work
- Fire physical exam
- Drug test and random drug tests throughout the season
- Physical fitness test (Pack Test)
- Complete Basic Fire School (Rookie School)
The Pack Test
The pack test measures the ability to perform firefighting tasks, including fireline construction with hand tools and carrying heavy loads over hilly terrain. YOU MUST PASS THE PACK TEST BEFORE YOU CAN GO TO WORK. Prior to reporting for work, applicants are strongly encouraged to train for the pack test.
The pack test consists of a three-mile hike with a 45-pound pack over level terrain. The test must be completed in 45 minutes or less. Running or jogging is not permissable and will result in disqualification.
Training for the Pack Test
Begin training at least four to six weeks before you report for duty by hiking or power walking wearing the ankle-height footwear you will use in the test. Running or walking shoes are suggested.
Walk a three-mile flat course without a pack. When you can cover the course in less than 45 minutes, add a pack with about 25 pounds to your training hikes. Increase the pack weight until you can hike three miles in 45 minutes with a 45-pound pack. Hike hills (with a pack) to build leg strength and endurance and jog the flat course (without a pack) to build aerobic fitness. Weight lifting, sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups are also suggested.
NOTE: If training for the pack test will substantially increase your level of activity, you should first consult your physician. This is especially important if you have a history of heart problems, chest pain, joint or bone problems, or loss of balance which could worsen with physical activity.
Seasonal Firefighter Positions
Seasonal firefighters work on engines and helicopter crews, as airtanker support personnel, and in dispatch and lookout towers. First-time firefighters start out as temporary seasonal firefighters, who work no more than six months in a 12-month period. After aquiring fire experience, temporary seasonal firefighters can advance to career seasonal firefighters, who work from six months and one day to no more than 11.5 months in a 12-month period.
Wildland engines are designed for initial attack on wildfires in off-road conditions. Engine crews are trained to suppress wildland fires. Work performed by these crews includes fireline construction, hose lays, burnout operations, mop up and patrolling. They may be involved in prevention and fire education activities. Crews also participate in prescribed fire and project work (e.g., fencing projects, saw projects, grounds maintance).
The helicopter crew, also known as "helitack," is made up of three 3-person modules. These modules can be broken into five modules depending on the availability of qualified overhead personnel. Helitack provides fast, aggressive initial attack response to wildfires. Work performed includes fireline construction, hose lays, burnout operations, crew shuttle operations, fire logistical support and water delivery support. Most helitack personnel have had previous experience as wildland firefighters.
Airtanker support personnel, also known as SEAT managers, work directly with the pilots, the unit aviation manager, and aviation dispatcher. Work performed includes briefing pilots, gathering dispatch information, travelling to remote reload bases, ensuring the proper loading of retardant, and completing forms and usage contracts.
A dispatcher's primary purpose it to direct, plan, organize, supervise and coordinate personnel and operational activities in a safe and efficient manner. Dispatchers direct the mobilization, reassignment, and demobilization of suppression and support resources as deemed necessary in light of changing and incident priorities within the area. A dispatcher also ensures critical information (e.g., red flag warnings, resource shortages) is relayed in a timely manner to field personnel and agency administrators. A variety of staff and administrative duties relating to fire suppression and prescribed fire activities are performed by dispatchers. Prior fire suppression and experience is critical in order to anticipate needs, determine priorities, and select alternative resources.
A lookout is stationed in a remote tower station and observes, plots and reports fire locations, estimated size and fire behavior. A lookout directly interacts with fire suppression personnel and dispatch through telephone and radio communications.
Hours, Wages and Benefits
- Minimum of 40 hours per week
- May be required to work 14 days with one day off or 21 days with two days off
- Maximum of 16 hours per 24-hour period (Work/Rest Guidelines).
- Hourly wage varies from $11.34 to $17.64 per hour depending on experience (2005 wages)
- Overtime is paid at time and a half for any time worked over 8 hours
- Hazard pay is 25% of the hourly rate for time spent on the fireline.