As we move through the peak month of wildfire season, and massive fires cause evacuations across California and the West (with San Bernadino’s fire at 30,000 acres as of this posting), let’s all remember to THANK the brave men and women out there working in scorching heat, breathing horrible air, eating and sleeping (barely) in brutal conditions, and hauling heavy gear up dangerous hillsides and canyons to protect homes and habitat. Many do this for very low pay and poor job security, despite the fact that they have some of the nation’s highest rates of on-the-job injury and workplace fatalities. Many are even denied workers compensation while risking their lives to keep us safe.
If you’re interested in pursuing a job in fire-fighting, or want to know what people go through to prepare for this important work, here is some career and training information from Wildfire Today:
How do I get a job as a wildland firefighter? USAJobs is a good source for information about wildland fire jobs in the federal government. Most federal wildland firefighters are technically “forestry technicians”, so at the USAJobs site you should search for that term or “fire”. To work for state or local agencies you will need to inquire with each individual organization.
What training does a wildland firefighter receive? Most entry level wildland firefighter jobs require that you complete at a minimum, Firefighter Training (S-130) and Introduction to Fire Behavior (S-190) either before or just after you are hired. If you want to get these courses before you apply for a job, check with your local federal or state land management agency, or inquire at a community college. Or search on the Internet for a wildland fire academy. To reach the highest level of rank or qualifications, such as the position of Type 1 Incident Commander running the largest fires, it takes longer than it does to become a General in the Army.
What are the physical requirements to be a wildland firefighter? The job of a wildland firefighter is VERY physically challenging. VERY. So if you have never worked out of doors or used your muscles for anything more arduous than operating a video game controller, you will have a hard time.
Taking the Work Capacity Test: The federal agencies require that firefighters pass a Work Capacity Test, or “pack test”, that requires you to walk three miles on level ground in less than 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound pack. Some states and local agencies use this test, but many use other types of physical-agility tests. Fire-related jobs that are less arduous than a firefighter have different and less arduous versions of the work capacity test. And did I mention that the job of a wildland firefighter is VERY physically challenging?
How can I get a job as a wildland firefighter in another country? It is very, very difficult for a U.S. citizen to get a job as a firefighter in Australia. Forget about it. For a citizen from outside the U.S. to get a job as a firefighter in the U.S. you would first need to be sponsored by an employer. Then you need a work permit from the U.S. embassy and a “green card” or resident alien card.
What is a “Red Card”. It is a wallet-sized card that certifies that a person is trained and qualified to perform specific jobs on a wildland fire or other types of incidents. After a person is hired and trained and they pass the required level of the Work Capacity Test, they are eligible to be given a red card by their employer.