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

Education

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

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. 

Challenges

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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