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Save Money and Travel with Seasonal Wildland Firefighting
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tatted-mormon Offline
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Post: #1
Save Money and Travel with Seasonal Wildland Firefighting
I was reading Scotian's oil sands post and thought I'd provide info on another blue collar job I have some experience in: wildland firefighting.

I've been doing this for the last couple summers as a way to work for half the year, save some cash, and travel for the rest. I wish I would have known about this job sooner--I think it's a really good option for a young guy who's just graduated high school or going to college. A lot of guys put themselves through college with this job by working it in the summer.

First, the different kinds of jobs available in wildland firefighting.

If you've never worked in fire you may not know that the duties of a wildland firefighter depend on what type of crew you're on. Its helpful to know about the different roles of the six wildland jobs so you can choose a role best suited to your abilities and temperament.

1. Hand Crew

Hand crews are the infantry of wildland fire forces. They are composed of 18-20 individuals of varying experience. As their name implies, these crews spend the bulk of their time using their hands to suppress and contain the fire, whether that's cutting line, back burning, or mopping up.

There are five different levels of hand crew, each with varying levels of qualification. The five types of hand crews are:
Type 1 Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC)
Type 1 Hand Crew
Type 2 Initial Attack (IA)
Type 2 Hand Crew
Type 3 Hand Crew


2. Fuels Crew

Fuels crews are primarily tasked with the thinning, reduction, and/or restoration of wildfire fuels. They are skilled in the use of hand tools and chainsaws to thin a variety of fuel types. Crews range in size up to a ten person team.

Fuels crews are often used in advance to prevent a fire from occurring. They may be utilized for prescribed fire operations, as Ill as prep work, fire ops, maintenance, mop up, and monitoring.

3. Engine Crew

Engine crews utilize different types of motorized vehicles in support of fire suppression. They range in size from groups of three to ten firefighters skilled in the use of engines and their hoses.

While engine crew members can rely on the aid of their motor vehicles to patrol and apply water, they are also sometimes tasked with line construction and mop-up operations. Engine crews are often employed as assistance for hand crews engaging in more direct modes of fire suppression. Crew members can expect to perform hose lays, dig line, perform burnouts, and mop up hot spots.

4. Helitack

Helitack crew members specialize in helicopter operations. Crews are composed of seven to ten individual firefighters. In addition to fire suppression, they utilize hand tools and chainsaws to prepare suitable helibases for their helicopters.

Crew members can sometimes spend extended periods on a helibase coordinating the transportation of crew and supplies to the fireline. Helitack crew members should be prepared to spend a long stretch of downtime at their helibase overseeing the logistics of equipment and firefighter transport. They are also often engaged in coordinating bucket drops betIen the helicopter pilot and forces on the ground.

Some helitack crews are trained to perform special operations such as short haul rescue or heli-rappelling. These skillsets are specific to certain teams and not all crews perform them.

5. Hotshot

Hotshots are a specialized hand crew used primarily for wildfire suppression, fuels reduction, and other fire management tasks. They are the most elite of all the hand crews and are used to fight fire in remote, rugged, and hard-to-access locations. Hotshot crews are a prized national resource and will likely spend the bulk of their fire season away from their forest fighting wildfires wherever the need arises.

Hotshots can expect to perform extremely arduous manual labor in very rough conditions. They are often assigned to remote and rugged areas of the fire where they will camp or "spike out". Because they are a scarce and valuable resource hotshots can expect to work a large amount of overtime.

Because of the higher level of difficulty of their assignments, hotshots place a premium on discipline, mental toughness, and a high level of physical fitness. High physical fitness leads directly to increased safety through fatigue reduction and injury prevention. Due to the inherent difficulty of their tasks, hotshot crews maintain a high level of group cohesion and camaraderie.

6. Smokejumper

Smokejumpers are firefighters who are delivered to fires by parachuting from an airplane. Because they are often the first firefighters to arrive on an incident they must be able to perform a wide variety of firefighting tasks and operate with relative independence. Because of this, smokejumpers are often highly trained and qualified.

Smokejumpers usually have a background in some other are of firefighting. They are prized for their flexibility and ability to rapidly respond to emerging or ongoing wildfires.

Which wildland fire job should you go for?

The answer to that question depends on your specific strengths and temperament. Are you a physically fit individual who likes using their body for hard manual work? Do you have a mechanical aptitude? Do you have a (completely justified) fear of helicopters? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself when deciding which direction to take in fire.

A common career route many firefighters take is by starting on an engine crew and then advancing into other areas, like hot-shotting. This is the route I took.

With demand for wildland firefighters as high as ever, its as good a time as any to become a wildland firefighter. Here's how I would recommend landing your first wildland firefighting job.

First, in order to be eligible, make sure you meet the bare minimum requirements to be a wildland firefighter. You must:

-Be at least 18 years of age and a citizen of the United States
-Be able to pass an Arduous Pack Test
-Be registered for Selective Services


After you've made sure you check those boxes it's time to create a profile and resume on USA Jobs.gov. This is the digital portal the US government uses for its jobs. It's a somewhat tedious process but completely necessary if you want to get a job.

Hiring dates for wildland vary according to region. To give yourself the best possible shot at landing a job, I recommend beginning your search in December. It may seem early, but when dealing with an organization as large as the US Federal Government, it's best to get started as soon as possible. Most job postings only stay up for about a week, so you have a small window in which to submit your application. Because of the government shutdown this year you probably still have a shot to apply this year if you get on it ASAP.

Now, the steps you need to take in order to get a job in wildland:

1. Create a profile and resume on https://www.usajobs.gov/"

Some tips on putting together your resume:

Unlike resumes for some other fields, your wildland resume should be as long and detailed as possible.

If this is your first year in fire, you obviously won't have a lot of fire experience. That's OK. There's a section on your USA Jobs resume for "additional information". Use this space to put in as much potentially relevant experience as possible. For example, I used this space to list my love of camping, and how I've done many extended overnight camping trips in wild and rugged terrain. Wildland firefighters often camp or 'spike out' while on a fire, so this demonstrates you're comfortable with camping out.

Be sure to list any sports teams you've been a part of and what kind of physical shape you're in. Also list anything you've done that demonstrates your capacity for leadership and teamwork (i.e. extracurricular clubs, sports teams, travel, etc).

Be sure to list the maximum number of five references on your resume. List only individuals you know will give you nothing less than a stellar recommendation. Make sure you use accurate and up-to-date contact information for your references (email and phone numbers) because they WILL be contacted. It also pays to notify your references beforehand that they should expect to be contacted by your prospective employer.

When listing your work experience, be sure to highlight aspects of the job that are relevant to wildland firefighting. For example, if you've got experience working in a restaurant, write about how it demonstrates you know how to work well in a team and the proper way to lift/carry heavy objects while preventing injury. Think about how your previous work experience relates to firefighting and list it.

2. Apply to wildland positions

You can find wildland positions on USA Jobs by entering the keywords "wildland firefighter" in the search bar. Some crews also provide outreach e-mails informing their recipients of job announcement numbers and posting dates. If you have specific crews in mind reach out to them and ask them when they're flying their open positions.

If this is your first year, I recommend focusing on getting a job on an engine crew. If you're a type A personality you probably want to be a hotshot but it's incredibly rare for a first year firefighter to be hired by a Type 1 crew. Look at your first year as getting your foot in the door and demonstrating you have what it takes to get to the next level your second or third year. Work hard and prove yourself in your first year and you'll have a good shot at landing a Type 1 job next fire season.

To give yourself the best shot at landing a job you're going to want to apply to as many positions as possible, and then follow up either in person or over the phone. I recommend applying to at least fifty positions to give yourself the best chance of finding someone who wants to hire you.

Because you're applying to so many positions I recommend creating a spreadsheet listing all of the USA Jobs you've applied to. Create a column on the sheet for each of the following:

-Job announcement number
-First consideration date
-Announcement close date
-Type of crew (i.e. engines, helitack, hand crew)
-Whether the position offers housing
-Hiring agency (i.e. Fish and Wildlife, Park Service, BLM, Forest Service)
-Main contact for the position (i.e. engine boss, assistant engine boss, etc.)
-Notes for the position (i.e. who you've talked to, when, and what level of interest they shoId)


Creating a spreadsheet will help you stay organized and remember where you stand with each prospective employer. Color code each position to indicate priority and which positions afford you the best chance for getting hired.

3. Call all the duty stations you applied to.

The truth is competition is quite fierce for wildland positions, so doing the bare minimum of applying online probably won't cut it. The reality is that the person on the other end of that application has the daunting task of sorting through hundreds of other applicants. You're going to need to do something to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do this is to call the person doing the hiring and introduce yourself. This puts a voice to your application and demonstrates you're serious about getting a job.

When you make the call introduce yourself and tell them why you're calling. It also helps to demonstrate your serious interest by taking the opportunity to learn more about them and their crew. This is your chance to both make a positive impression and learn as much as possible about the crew you could be working for.

Here are some examples of questions you could/should ask:

-What is their experience in fire?
-How long have they been at their current position?
-Will their be opportunities for training during the season?
-How much overtime does the crew average?
-Is housing provided?

Try to be calm, relaxed, and professional during the call. There's nothing to worry about, it's just a casual call for the two of you to get to know each other a little better. You'll know when you've made a good connection. Be sure to make note of it in your spreadsheet and continue to check in with them during their hiring process, calling every two weeks or so. With any luck, they'll soon be offering you a job.

Accept a position.

I wouldn't be too picky about where. As I said, this first year is about getting your boot in the door and demonstrating you willingness to learn and develop yourself as a firefighter. Get at least a year of work experience under your belt and your options will start to open up.

Once you get a job you can expect to earn anywhere from $30k-45k for six months of work. It isn't much considering the difficulty of the work but it's enough to save and travel during the winter if you live a spartan lifestyle. The money is in the overtime and hazard pay. Hotshotting is good for this since they're a shared national resource in high demand with the fire behavior we've been seeing each summer.

I should also mention this work is not for those who do not like physical labor. Every crew is run different, but if you get a job on a shot crew you will likely work like a dog cutting line for 16 hours a day in 100 plus degree heat in full gear, contract poison oak, have an MRE for dinner, sleep on the ground, then wake up at 5:30 AM the next day to do it all over again.

That's my advice on landing your first job in wildland firefighting. This is the strategy I used to get my first job in fire. I knew there was a lot of competition so I applied to and called over seventy duty stations. Through that process I made a good connection with one engine boss in particular who I had a particularly good conversation with. I stayed in touch with this person during their hiring process in order to keep our name fresh in their minds and they eventually offered me a job.

My experience taught me that the key to landing a wildland job is persistence. It's kind of like game in that way. If you demonstrate sufficient will and determination, the person on the other end of that phone will take notice and offer you a job.

If anyone has any questions about the job I'm here to answer them.

Good luck, and see you out on the line.
02-05-2019 04:39 PM
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CDRhodes Offline
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Post: #2
RE: Save Money and Travel with Seasonal Wildland Firefighting
Outstanding post. I would definitely look into this if I were a younger man.
02-08-2019 02:32 PM
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ChicagoFire Offline
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Post: #3
RE: Save Money and Travel with Seasonal Wildland Firefighting
(02-05-2019 04:39 PM)tatted-mormon Wrote:  The truth is competition is quite fierce for wildland positions, so doing the bare minimum of applying online probably won't cut it. The reality is that the person on the other end of that application has the daunting task of sorting through hundreds of other applicants. You're going to need to do something to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do this is to call the person doing the hiring and introduce yourself. This puts a voice to your application and demonstrates you're serious about getting a job.

When you make the call introduce yourself and tell them why you're calling. It also helps to demonstrate your serious interest by taking the opportunity to learn more about them and their crew. This is your chance to both make a positive impression and learn as much as possible about the crew you could be working for.

Here are some examples of questions you could/should ask:

-What is their experience in fire?
-How long have they been at their current position?
-Will their be opportunities for training during the season?
-How much overtime does the crew average?
-Is housing provided?

Try to be calm, relaxed, and professional during the call. There's nothing to worry about, it's just a casual call for the two of you to get to know each other a little better. You'll know when you've made a good connection. Be sure to make note of it in your spreadsheet and continue to check in with them during their hiring process, calling every two weeks or so. With any luck, they'll soon be offering you a job.

I have been job searching for months to no avail. While I'm not interested in this particular career I'm stealing this portion thanks!

(09-21-2018 09:31 AM)kosko Wrote:  For the folks who stay ignorant and hating and not improving their situation during these Trump years, it will be bleak and cold once the good times stop.
02-08-2019 08:47 PM
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tatted-mormon Offline
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Posts: 31
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Post: #4
RE: Save Money and Travel with Seasonal Wildland Firefighting
(02-08-2019 08:47 PM)ChicagoFire Wrote:  
(02-05-2019 04:39 PM)tatted-mormon Wrote:  The truth is competition is quite fierce for wildland positions, so doing the bare minimum of applying online probably won't cut it. The reality is that the person on the other end of that application has the daunting task of sorting through hundreds of other applicants. You're going to need to do something to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do this is to call the person doing the hiring and introduce yourself. This puts a voice to your application and demonstrates you're serious about getting a job.

When you make the call introduce yourself and tell them why you're calling. It also helps to demonstrate your serious interest by taking the opportunity to learn more about them and their crew. This is your chance to both make a positive impression and learn as much as possible about the crew you could be working for.

Here are some examples of questions you could/should ask:

-What is their experience in fire?
-How long have they been at their current position?
-Will their be opportunities for training during the season?
-How much overtime does the crew average?
-Is housing provided?

Try to be calm, relaxed, and professional during the call. There's nothing to worry about, it's just a casual call for the two of you to get to know each other a little better. You'll know when you've made a good connection. Be sure to make note of it in your spreadsheet and continue to check in with them during their hiring process, calling every two weeks or so. With any luck, they'll soon be offering you a job.

I have been job searching for months to no avail. While I'm not interested in this particular career I'm stealing this portion thanks!

Glad I could help. Good luck!
02-08-2019 11:05 PM
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ChicagoFire
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