Infrastructure Bill: How it Affects Wildland Firefighters

The Infrastructure Law was signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15, 2021.

According to whitehouse.gov, the Infrastructure Bill is made to “rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.”

One of the many parts of the bill is a 5-year plan and a $1.5 billion budget that will be used by the Department for wildland fire.

The $1.5 billion is going towards workforce reform and increased preparedness for wildfires.

Workforce Reform

The bill is intended to boost morale by offering a more liveable wage, bolsters mental health programs, and minimizes exposure to environmental hazards. These changes are being made in an attempt to keep and aquire more wildland firefighters over the next 5 years.

The Need for More Wildland Firefighters

Wildfire season is getting harder, longer, and more unpredictable, there is a growing need for more wildland firefighters every season.

U.S. wildfire agencies are considering shifting to more full-time firefighting crews to deal with what has become a year-round wildfire season and making the jobs more attractive by increasing pay and benefits. With the Infrastrucuture Law, this may become more of a possibility.

According to whitehouse.gov, “With fire seasons turning into fire years, it is imperative to have a year-round workforce that is available to respond at any time, that is supported and equitably compensated, and is available to undertake preventive actions like hazardous fuels management treatments during periods of low fire activity.”

Increase in Wildland Firefighters’ Pay

The bill requires wildland firefighters to receive at least a $20,000 base salary, this pay raise will impact nearly 70,000 federal employees across all agencies. The minimum pay in all 50 states is now atleast $20 per hour with the opportunity for overtime.

A Focus on Mental Health

Being a wildland firefighter comes with many challenges, from long hours, high temperatures, and constant physical strain. Just this last fire season, 7.6 million acres burned across the US.

Wildland firefighting can be the cause of both physical and mental strain.

The Infrastructure Bill hopes to establish mitigation strategies for firefighters’ mental health.

Wildfire Preparedness

The law provides $125 million over 5 years for other activities that will increase preparedness to respond to wildland fire.

Wildland preparedness includes training for firefighters, more efficient fire equipment, and better wildfire detection and monitoring.


Is it enough? This bill offers an increase in pay wages, a focus on mental health, to help eliminate environmental hazards, and better prepare for fire season. We will see it play out more this fire season.

BME Receives Contract From the State of California

BOISE, Idaho, April 21, 2022 – BME Fire Trucks was awarded a fifty-six million dollar ($56 million) contract from the State of California, Department of General Services/Procurement.

This contract, that was awarded to BME Fire Trucks, is for the estimated purchase of 170 wildland engines that will be built for California State Agencies and the opportunity for other California municipalities and rural fire departments to tag-on.

These units will feature:

  • International HD 507 4X4 chassis with Cummins L-9 engines
  • Seating for five (5) crew members
  • Darley JMP 500 GPM main pump and auxiliary Darley 1.5 AGE 24HP Diesel Kubota
  • BME tubular constructed fire body and stainless-steel plumbing

Tag-on opportunities are available to all California fire departments. If your department is interested in tagging on, please contact one of BME’s authorized dealers in your area or call 800-445-8342 to be connected.

BME Fire Trucks, located in Boise, ID, opened its doors in 1990 and has been manufacturing fire trucks for over 30 years. In 2021, BME announced a strategic alliance with Pierce Manufacturing to meet the growing needs in the wildland market and to collaborate on new fire suppression products. Due to the continued growth and demand, BME moved into a new facility in October of 2021, located at 4600 S Apple Street, Boise, ID 83716 expanding operations from 75,000 sq ft to over 200,000 sq ft.

BME has manufactured apparatus for local fire departments nationwide, as well as the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, Department of Defense, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire, and many municipalities.

What Causes Wildfires and How to Prevent Them

What is a wildfire?

A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in wildland vegetation, often in rural areas, but recently, it has also burned in urban areas. Over the past ten years, wildfires have destroyed over 7.4 million acres per year, costing the government $2.3 billion in 2020

Wildfires destroy forests, crops, homes, resources, animals, or anything in its way. As drought and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, so will the severity of wildfires. 97% of wildfires threaten people and property due to their growing severity. 

The question is, what causes wildfires, and how can we prevent them? 

How do wildfires start?

Firest fires can occur naturally, or they can also be man-made. Wildfires start naturally, typically ignited by the sun’s heat or a lightning strike. But nearly 85% of wildfires are created by humans: Campfires, burning of debris, fireworks, cigarettes, arson, etc. 

How do they spread?

The intensity and movement of a forest fire ultimately depend on three factors: 

  1. Fuel
  2. Weather
  3. Topography


Fuels are typically vegetation. How a forest fire spreads is dependent on how dry and the amount of vegetation there is to burn. 


Wind, temperature, and humidity play a large role in wildfire behavior. Any of these factors can cause it to move at a faster rate. From strong wind to hot temperatures, the weather can become fuel for the fire. 


Topography can affect the rate and direction of wildfires. The steepness of land or the direction it faces can cause the wildfire to move quicker and become more severe. 

Where do wildfires happen in the US?

More wildfires occur in the Eastern US, but the wildfires in the west are larger and burn more acreage. Western parts of the United States are as listed: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. In 2020 0.5 million acres were burned in the East compared to 7.1 million acres in the West. 

Why does California have so many wildfires?

California is usually hit the hardest every year, having large-scale evacuations every summer. Why is this?

California has been plagued with many years of drought combined with high temperatures and lack of precipitation. The dry climate means dry vegetation, and dry vegetation means more fuel for the fire. 

How to prevent forest fires

Since 1944 Smokey the Bear has been a symbol for forest fire prevention, and in recent years, CAL FIRE has begun the “one less spark” campaign. Both build awareness of the large number of wildfires sparked from human error. The “safest” wildfire is one that never starts, so if you live in a wildfire-prone area, here are some ways to help prevent wildfires.

Campfires and Bonfires

Always keep a shovel and a bucket of water close by, clear vegetation, and only start fires in designated campfire/bonfire pits.  Never leave it unattended and drown your fire with water when you are done. 


Completely douse your matches and butts with water and keep matches away from children.

Burning of Debris

In some states, you need a permit before burning your debris. Before beginning, make sure there is no flammable material or vegetation. Keep water supply and shovel close to the burning site so that you will be able to extinguish the fire if needed.

Equipment Use

If you live close to a wildland area, you should be extra cautious with equipment: lawnmowers, weed-eater, grinders, welders, tractors. By using your equipment responsibly, you are doing your part to keep your community safe.

Being prepared

Not all forest fires can be prevented, and when they happen, you should be prepared. Here are three things you can do to make sure you and your loved ones are ready for a wildfire:

Recognize Warnings and Alerts

If you are in a wildfire-prone area you can receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service and community alerts through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert (WAS)

Make an Emergency Plan

Ensure that everyone in your house knows and understands what to do if there is an evacuation.

Strengthen your home

Use fire-resistant materials, find outdoor water sources that you can easily reach, and make fire-resistant zones around your home free of debris and flammable vegetation.

Know your evacuation zones

In the case of a forest fire, you may have to evacuate quickly, understand areas that would be easy to evacuate to, and be less prone to wildfire.

Gather supplies

Have enough supplies for your household ready to go in a bag or car truck. This includes a first aid kit and any other necessities. Keep your cellphone charged, especially when you know a wildfire is close to your area.

Wildfire season is no longer a season but a year-long threat. Understanding, preventing, and preparing is your best bet against wildfires. 


Wildland Firefighter Pay

Group of Wildland Firefighters walking on a road next to a forest

According to CBS, firefighting is considered one of the most dangerous jobs. Being a hazardous occupation, how much do wildland firefighters make? 

This article will go over what the average wildland firefighter makes, common benefits, wages state by state, and recent pay increases. 

How Much Do Wildland Firefighters Make?

The average salary across the US is around $40k, which 70% of wildland firefighters think their wages are enough for the cost of living in their area. Wildland firefighters typically have the opportunity for unlimited overtime. 

According to blogger and wildland firefighter Katrina Mohr, “Most firefighters count a good fire season as one where they are getting 700 total hours of overtime. I’ve had years where I only had 450, and years I’ve had 850.”

Two Wildland Firefighters silhouette in front of an active wildfire

Hazard Pay

Originating in the 1970s, hazard pay is an additional 25% of your base hourly wage and calculated by the hours you worked that day, even if you only spent a portion of that day in hazardous conditions. 

Determining factors of hazard pay is if a duty is performed under circumstances in which an accident could result in serious injury or death.

Hazard pay is currently used by USFS, BLM, BIA, and the National Parks Service. Municipal fire departments, Oregon Department of Forestry, CAL FIRE, and Colorado Division of Fire and Prevention no longer use hazard pay. 

Hazard pay can vary between fire seasons, creating an unpredictable income that people are beginning to feel is outdated.

According to Riva Duncan, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters (GRWFF), it’s not enough, “[…] The pay and benefits are not commensurate with the risk, and the risk has increased fire season after fire season.”

Common Benefits for Wildland Firefighters

Benefits for Seasonal and Year-Round Wildland Firefighters:

Food provided

Benefits for Year-Round Wildland Firefighters:

Work from home


Parental leave

Health insurance

Paid time off

Vision insurance

Dental insurance

What Wildland Firefighters Make by State

Wildland firefighters’ pay is based on the cost of living of each state.Wildland Firefighter Hourly Wage by State InfographicDepending on where you report, you may receive “locality pay adjustment.”

Recent Wildland Firefighter Pay Increase

Wildfire season is getting harder, longer, and more unpredictable. With that, there is a growing need for more wildland firefighters on the frontlines and a huge push for better pay.

Infrastructure Bill

President Joe Biden signed The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on November 15, 2021. 

According to whitehorse.org, this bill was made to “rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.” 

One of the many parts of the bill requires wildland firefighters to receive at least a $20,000 base salary and convert 1,000 seasonal jobs into permanent ones, which means year-round health insurance and benefits. The pay raise will impact nearly 70,000 federal employees across all agencies. 

With these new changes, federal agencies hope to recruit more wildland firefighters.

Is it enough?

This bill has seemed to boost morale because it offers a more liveable wage, bolsters mental health programs, and minimizes exposure to environmental hazards. But we will see it play out more this fire season. 

Why are Fire Trucks Red?

Typically, when you hear sirens, a flash of red will follow, but why are fire trucks red? Is it safety, tradition, or both?

There are a lot of theories of why fire trucks are red, but fire departments today don’t always follow tradition, and there are engines that are lime-green, orange, and sometimes even blue. This article will explore the origin of fire engine red, the safest color, and how to choose the right color for your department. 

Origin of Fire Engine Red

Some guesses to the origin of fire engine red start with the color of the first cars. Ford released the Model T, which was painted black because it was the cheapest and most durable paint color. Due to most cars being black, it was easy to distinguish cars and emergency vehicles with the bright red. Red was also the most expensive color at the time, which could’ve played a factor in departments picking their engine color. 

What is fire engine red?

Fire engine red is dependent on the shade of red that a fire department wants: bright, dark, or every shade in between. Our partners at Pierce Manufacturing have over 700 shades of red to meet the needs of their clients. That combined with BME makes over a thousand shades of red. As long as it is on a fire truck, it’s considered fire engine red. 

What is the safest fire truck color?

Is red the safest color? Studies suggest that it isn’t, but why? 

Red seems to be not as detectable or as effective as previously thought.

According to American Psychological Association, “research shows that because the color-transmitting cones in our eyes don’t work well in the dark, some colors are easier for us to see at night. We are most sensitive to greenish-yellow colors under dim conditions, making lime shades easiest to see in low lighting.” 

Being unable to see emergency vehicles at night is a safety issue for first responders, firefighters, and civilians. Many agree that lime-yellow is a more distinctive, highly visible color that should be preferred by departments. 

Different colors of fire trucks

Besides red, fire truck colors include:

  • White
  • Lime green
  • Yellow 
  • Green 
  • Blue

Take a look at the variety of apparatus paint colors in our recent deliveries.

Yellow Xtreme Tactical Tender For Sale

Yellow Xtreme Tactical Tender built for Waimea Station 9 located in Hawaii

BME Wildland Type 3 Model 34 North Fork

Red Type 3 Engine built for North Fork FD located in Colorado




Type 4 brush truck for NE Teller Fire District

Maroon/White Type 3 Model 62 built for NE Teller located in Colorado

cal oes fire truck

Lime-green Model 34 built for CAL OES

BME type 3 model 34 fire truck

White Type 3 built for Diamond Valley FD located in Utah

Choosing the right color for your department 

Even with lime-green/yellow being considered one of the safest colors for an apparatus, many fire departments make a visual choice rather than a scientific one. Many departments may choose a color based on tradition, location, type of vehicle, etc. Either way, BME will ensure that your department finds a color that fits your need.


Types of Fire Trucks and their Purpose

Three Fire Apparatus, red type 3, USFS green Type 4, and a red Type 6 parked on asphalt in front of forgery

Fire engines have advanced throughout the last four centuries. The first fire engines were human-propelled water pumps with no room for personnel. Around the end of the 1800s, the threat of fire within densely populated areas brought about paid firefighters equipped with horses to pull the early apparatus.  The modern-day fire engine emerged in the 1960s armed with water pumps, a reservoir, and enclosed seats for the crew. 

 As the fire threats began to change, so did the specialization of the fire engine. 

What are the different types of fire engines?

Taking a look at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, it classifies the vehicles by type and function. This is important because it created universal fire truck standards and terminology to help fire departments find an apparatus that will fit their needs.

Fire Engine Types and Classification:

Infographic explaining the different types of fire trucks

Type 1 Fire Engine

A Type 1 fire truck, typically responds to structural fires and is the most common type of fire truck in use today. Densely populated areas depend on a Type 1 fire apparatus to efficiently maneuver to the call and deploy an array of ladders to reach fires in elevated buildings.

A typical custom pumper holds around 400 to 500 gallons of water.  Oftentimes the amount of water needed to extinguish the fire cannot be supplied by the tank alone. Finding a reliable water supply is one of the most fundamental operations when arriving on the fire scene.

In addition, Type 1 pumpers are equipped to carry up to 4 firefighters. Commonly found on these apparatus are SCBA’s, chainsaws, circular saws, and many different types of specialized equipment dependent on the department’s needs.

Type 2 Fire Engine

A Type 2 fire truck features many of the same specifications and tools as the Type 1 fire truck. They are also the typical truck seen in a suburban area responding to structural fires. 

Commercial pumpers are more compact but still holds the same amount of equipment as Type 1. Typically seen first on the scene to start fire extinguishing tasks until more support arrives.

Type 2 pumpers typically carries 3 or 4 firefighters. Commonly found on these apparatus are SCBA’s, chainsaws, circular saws, and many different types of specialized equipment dependent on the department’s needs.

commerical pumper

Type of Wildland Fire Engines

A Type 3, Type 4, and Type 6 are what are considered “wildland engines” or “brush trucks.” These are the vehicles that respond to wildfires and have the ability to drive in rough terrain to respond to a fire or rescue.  

Wildland engines are specially designed for the technique of pump-and-roll.  This is a tactic where the vehicle drives with the pump engaged while a firefighter uses a hose to spray water on the fire.

Type 3 Fire Engine

Type 3 has four-wheel drives to make driving over rough terrain easier and has a maximum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 26,000 lbs.  The minimum number of personnel a Type 3 must carry is 3.

Type 3 brush trucks are required to have a minimum of 500 US gallons of water and pump 150 US gallons per minute at a pressure of 250 pounds per square inch. Type 3 and Type 4 often look similar to one another. However, the biggest difference is their minimum personnel and tank capacities.

type 3 wildland fire engine

Type 4 Fire Engine

Type 4 Wildland engine is similar to a Type 3 but with very important differences. Type 4 are used to drive over rough terrain and weighs 26,000 lbs, but it sacrifices a smaller pump and less hose for a larger 750-gallon tank. The Type 4 standard of pumping is 50 US gallons per minute at a pressure of 100 pounds per square inch. The minimum number of personnel a Type 4 must carry is 2.

type 4 fish and wildlfie

Type 5, Type 6, and Type 7 Fire Engine

Type 5, 6, & 7 are usually built specifically for the department’s needs. These vehicles are typically pick-up truck-based with 4-wheel drive.

These engines are often seen in both wildland and suburban settings. These fire engines have a much smaller configuration than a typical Type 3 or 4 engine.  

The smaller body still allows the department to carry 50 to 400 gallons of water with the maneuverability and accessibility that you don’t have in Type 3 or 4.  

Types 5 through 7 are used heavily for the initial fire suppression response, and their GVWR’s are rated in ascending order from 26,000 lbs in Type 5 engines to 14,000 on Type 7. This engine classification is designed to hold a minimum of 2 people and carry hose diameters ranging from 1 inch to 1 ½ inch.

type 6 engine


As a general rule of thumb, fire engine types are specified from largest to smallest size, Types 1-2 being the largest to carry large pumps and ladders for structure fires, and Types 5-7 being the smallest for navigating rough wildland terrain. Type 3 and 4 engines are mid-sized engines built both for wildland mobility and large water capacity. The general difference between these two is that Type 4 engines have much larger water tanks than Type 3 engines.

We, at BME, specialize in wildland engines thus focusing on types 3-7. See our recent deliveries here. If you’d like to know more about types 1-2, click here to view more from our partners at Pierce Manufacturing. 

Fire Department Ranks

Fire Chief voicing commands during an active fire in the background

The fire service was developed as a paramilitary organization around 1647, which has helped create the structure of fire department rankings that we see today. 

A paramilitary organization is a semi-militarized organizational structure similar to those of a professional military but not actually part of the armed forces

When firefighters are hired, they are considered recruits. They must complete a recruit academy to become probationary firefighters and remain on probation for six months. Promotions to higher ranks are determined by years of experience, test scores, and other evaluative criteria.

Here is an outline of the firefighter ranks in order:

  1. Probationary firefighter
  2. Firefighter
  3. Driver engineer
  4. Lieutenant
  5. Captain
  6. Battalion chief
  7. Assistant Chief
  8. Fire chief

Fire Department Units

Fire department units are usually divided into a few basic categories:

  1. Company
  2. Battalion
  3. Districts


Two or more firefighters are organized as a team, led by a fire officer, and equipped to perform certain operational functions. This is the basic unit.


A battalion consists of several fire stations and multiple fire companies. A battalion chief has command over each fire station’s officers and each company or unit’s officers, as well as the uniformed firefighters.


This is another division that is most often employed only in the larger departments. A district chief is usually over several battalions.

Firefighter Ranks

Here is a look at each role within the fire service and its ranks.

Probationary firefighter

The probationary firefighter is an individual that is classified as entry-level within the hierarchy. They are often still undergoing training and evaluation to determine if there is an organizational fit. The period for the probationary term may span from 6 months to one year, depending on the individual and the organization.


After an individual completes the probationary period, they are referred to as a firefighter. The role of firefighter is responsible for much of the actual hands-on actions during a live operation. These tasks can include but are not limited to handling hoses, operating fire-rescue equipment, and conducting a search, find, and rendering of initial first aid care to victims of the fire.


Fire engineers are responsible for the implementation of the firefighting vehicles that respond to emergencies. They ensure that the vehicle is clean and running efficiently, perform maintenance tasks, and drive the truck. In addition to knowing the apparatus in and out, the Engineer is also responsible for knowing the location of every alarm in his jurisdiction and the location of each hydrant.


Aside from overseeing apparatus operation and the crew’s responsibilities, fire lieutenants are also responsible for candidate training, daily firehouse operations, and other duties. In the absence of the captain, lieutenants may stand in as acting captains.


This firefighter is the highest-ranking on-scene responder, responsible for directing operations at the scene of a fire incident and overseeing station duties. This role requires great responsibility, and the individual must have exemplary management skills and the ability to lead firefighters.

Battalion Chief

The Battalion Chief oversees administrative tasks such as employee scheduling and ensuring all firehouses under their scope are staffed for emergencies. Due to the nature of shift-work in firefighting, one fire department could have numerous rotating Battalion Chiefs ensuring 24/7 operational readiness.

Assistant Chief

The assistant Chief helps support the Fire Chief by ensuring a high standard in operational quality free from personnel issues that could jeopardize the department’s mission. In addition, the Assistant Chief also helps the Chief with matters such as budgets, community and department programming, training, and managing the success of the fire department.

Fire Chief

This is the highest-ranking position in the fire department organization. The Chief oversees all operations and roles inside the department and works with city officials to create a safer community. A successful Chief understands the value of legal agreements, partnerships, networking, trusting and empowering others, and stepping back to look at the big picture.

All ranks have the opportunity to work their way up the ranks to the fire chief.

As firefighters advance their careers, they are likely to assume more responsibility in managerial or administrative roles. It becomes their duty to train, assist, and promote the interests of their company, battalion, or district.

Reading Smoke Signals: How Firefighters Use Smoke Signals

Firefighters Reading and Understanding smoke signals

One of the most important skills all firemen should possess is the ability to read smoke signals. The ability to read the smoke at any position within the company can help those responding to the incident make better tactical decisions.

Smoke can help first responders determine the fire’s location, growth, toxicity, the direction of travel. In the case of a structure fire, it helps us predict hostile fire events like smoke explosions, backdrafts, and flashovers.  “Reading smoke can tell us what is happening now and, more importantly, what is going to happen in the future,” said author the author of The Art of Reading Smoke, David W. Dodson. “Watching how fast it is changing can tell if we have seconds or minutes before something happens.”

Types of Smoke Signals

The art of reading smoke must first start with what comprises the emission.  Smoke is made up of particulates, aerosols, and gases, and has four attributes:

  1. Smoke Volume
  2. Smoke Velocity
  3. Smoke Density
  4. Smoke Color

Smoke Volume

Smoke Volume can provide a useful indication of the location and indicates the amount of fuels off-gassing within an area. The measure of volume is important but unfortunately, it elucidates nothing much other than location. There can be large volumes of smoke with very little fire.

Smoke Velocity

Smoke Velocity is the speed of the smoke leaving the structure.  The velocity is an indicator of pressure that has built up within the compartment. If the velocity of smoke leaving an opening is agitated or turbulent, then rapid-fire progress is likely to occur. In these cases, unless the structure is ventilated and cooled a backdraft, explosive burning of heated gases, will occur due to the improper ventilation.

Smoke Density

Smoke Density refers to the thickness of the emission and how much fuel is laden in the smoke. Optical density refers to how difficult it is to see through the smoke. Thick or optically dense smoke contains a high concentration of particulates and is difficult to see through. The greater the smoke density the more likely a hostile fire event, such as flashover or rapid fire spread.

The thicker the smoke, the more spectacular the flashover or fire spread.  Worse yet due to the concentration, thick black smoke can be an ignitable fuel.

Smoke Color

Smoke Color is the visible shade of the spectrum and tells the stage of the fire as well as helps determine the location of the fire.  Petroleum products, rubber, and many plastics will produce black smoke.  Wood and other ordinary combustibles will commonly produce smoke ranging from light gray to yellowish.  

It’s important to make a distinction that lighter-colored smoke frequently contains a substantial concentration of unburned, highly flammable, and deoxygenated materials.  Under these conditions, the smoke can ignite and create a hazardous and possibly deadly situation for firefighters. When a fire produces dark brown or even black it is an indication that the fire is underventilated and/or it contains an abundance of petroleum products.  

Additionally, brownish smoke will tell you that fire has ignited wood, which usually means that the fire has infiltrated the structural integrity of the building and could provide a collapse hazard. The color of smoke is generally thought of as the most comprehensive indicator of fire behavior.  However, it is essential to remember that smoke color is only one indicator that is a part of a number of indicators used to predict fire behavior and it must be considered in context.

The above signs of reading smoke are excellent tools to have, but they are not all-inclusive. In The Art of Reading Smoke, David W. Dodson stresses that firefighters and incident commanders need to use their best judgment when reading smoke and committing firefighters to assignments. Here are a few tips Dodson shared in the first part of his book:

  • Stop watching the fire. The first big barrier to learning to read smoke is that our eyes are naturally drawn to light and movement, both of which are exhibited by fire. “The fire is the endgame,” Dodson says. “An experienced fire officer looks away from the light.”
  • Know the four characteristics of smoke: volume, color, velocity and density. More importantly, know how to look at smoke and quickly identify it in terms of these characteristics.
  • Thin, black, fast smoke indicates a well-ventilated fire is nearby.
  • Slow, white, dissipating smoke (first thick but thinning quickly) is a sign of steam, and indicates early stage heating.
  • Brown smoke indicates unfinished wood burning. In lightweight construction, this can be a warning sign for building collapse.

Wildland Firefighter Jobs

Wildland Firefighter part of a Hand Crew helping suppress a wildfire

Wildland firefighting is not for the faint of heart. Wildland firefighting is a career choice that takes physical and mental strength and a passion for helping out communities across the US affected by wildfires. If you’ve decided to pursue a wildland firefighter job, the next step is to determine exactly what type of wildland firefighter you want to become.

Wildland Firefighter Positions

Some positions are temporary, permanent, year-round, and seasonal. As in any job, advancement opportunities increase as your ability and skills develop.

There are several career paths in wildland firefighting, from hand crew to a smokejumper. Some positions are more general, while others require specialized skills and training

Wildland Firefighter spraying an active wildfire with a hose over his shoulder

Wildland firefighting jobs you should consider:

  • Fuel Crew
  • Engine Crew
  • Hand Crew
  • Hotshot Crew
  • Helitack Crew
  • Smokejumper
  • Wildland Fire Module

Fuel Crew

A fuel crew is usually made up of 10 members. Their responsibility is for fuel-related wildland fire tasks such as clearing fuels (shrubs, woodlands, or timber), applying chemicals to unwanted fuels, and reducing hazardous fuel. A fuel crew’s ultimate goal is to restore fire-adapted ecosystems and understand the before and after fire effects. 

Engine Crew

Engine crews are used for fire suppression, patrolling, and project work. They work with wildland fire engines that carry special equipment to spray water and foam. Engine crews also respond to reports of new wildfires and serve as the initial attack forces. Being physically fit and mentally alert is important in this role.  

Hand Crew

Hand crews are on the frontlines, implementing direct or indirect fire suppression tactics, and are tasked with constructing fire lines. Tools like chainsaws and drip torches are commonly used in these roles. 

Hotshot Crew

They are named “Hotshot” because they work on the hottest part of wildfires. Hotshot crews are tasked with similar tasks as hand crews but are placed in more rugged terrains because of their physical fitness and specialization. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a hotshot wildland firefighter, you should be prepared to spend significant periods away from home.

Helitack Crew

These firefighters arrive at fires via helicopter and help in fire suppression. When on the ground, these crew members use hand tools and chainsaws to fight the flames, and if the fire continues to move forward, the crew assumes a support role in trying to extinguish it. These wildland fire crews range from 7 to 24 members. 


Smokejumpers are skydiving firefighters. These firefighters are highly-trained with the ability to jump from airplanes with parachutes to arrive at the part of a fire where they are needed. Traveling all over the US, helping suppress wildfires, smokejumpers work from late spring to early fall. 

Wildland Fire Module

Wildland fire modules are crews that consist of roughly 7 to 10 highly skilled firefighters with the duties of monitoring fire behavior, line construction, project preparation, and the planning and execution of wildfire management. These crews are trained to be self-sufficient because they are often in remote areas.

Wildland Career Opportunities

Know which position you’re interested in? Check out who’s hiring:

How to Become a Wildland Firefighter


Wildland firefighters responding to a wildfire in open field of brush

Wildland firefighters are tasked with the strenuous task of combating wildfires. US Wildland firefighting jobs operate at a federal, state, and local level. Some positions are year-round, and others are seasonal. As the fire season continues to burn more wildland and last longer, the need for wildland firefighters has become more evident. 

How to Get Started

If you want to become a wildland firefighter, here’s how to get started. 

Basic Requirements and Qualifications

Requirements and qualifications depend on the agency you want to apply to, but some conditions generally apply across every agency. The basic requirements for wildland firefighting jobs with federal agencies include:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Age 18 or older at the date of hire
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Relatively clean criminal record
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Drug test 
  • Background check
  • Passing the Arduous Work Capacity Test


Each agency sets specific educational requirements, but there are multiple coursework areas related to various positions within wildland agencies. The following are examples of these areas of study:

  • Forestry
  • Agriculture
  • Crop or Plant Science
  • Wildlife Management
  • Range Management or Conservation
  • Watershed Management
  • Natural Resources 
  • Outdoor Recreation Management
  • Civil or Forest Engineering
  • Wildland Fire Science
  • Soil Science


Training programs usually require candidates to take both a written and physical test. First-time firefighters must also pass a medical exam and a work capacity test to make sure they’re physically adept.

Written Test

Firefighters must attend fire behavior, incident command, suppression tactics, and safety classes. Then, they will be given a written test that will test their spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning, and logic.

Physical Test

The physical test that first-time firefighters must pass is known as the Arduous Work Capacity Test

 Potential firefighters must demonstrate that they can perform the essential functions of arduous duty by completing a three-mile hike through rough terrain while carrying 45 pounds of gear, which must be completed in 45 minutes or less. 

Earning your Red Card

After passing the Arduous Work Capability, they will be issued an Incident Qualification Card, known as a Red Card. Once you have your Red Card, your sponsoring agency will typically list you as an available resource with the agency or fire department. 


When applying to be a wildland firefighter, the job comes with many challenges, from long hours, high temperatures, and constant physical strain. Being a wildland firefighter is not one of the easiest careers. Just this last fire season, 7.6 million acres burned across the US. The best thing you can do is mentally and physically prepare.

A forest firefighter overwhelmed by the challenges they face in suppression of wildfires

Career Opportunities

When applying, you need to understand that entry-level wildland firefighter positions are extremely competitive, and finding the right position and agency can be difficult. So first things first, who’s hiring? 

How to Apply

When looking for a wildland firefighting position, it is best to look around October. The hiring process will typically begin in January and end closer to fire season. Some fire regions have different periods when their applications are open, so pay close attention to the agency you want to apply to.

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