Frequently Asked Questions
JOBS & EMPLOYMENT Q&A
- Who is Ab? How did this site begin?
(Most job suggestions relate to getting a federal wildland firefighter job.
States have slightly different procedures as do counties, cities, volunteer and
OTHER NON-EMPLOYMENT Q&A
- I have no fire experience. Where can I find
information about getting a firefighting job?
- What kinds of Federal firefighting jobs can I get for the summer?
What about for a career path?
- What hours will I work and how much does
- What classes/training do I need to get hired? Will I be
- What are the physical requirements? How can I get
ready? Should I be training?
- What do I need to take? What will my
- When do I apply?
- I'm going to work on a handcrew. What should I
take in my pack?
- What is the Pack Test? The Work Capacity Test
- What is a redcard? How do I get one?
- I have fire experience. Where can I find
information about getting a firefighting job?
- Where can I find information on fire training
- I want to get into contracting for large fires.
What do I need to do?
- I 'm a former fed firefighter and I want to work as an AD on fires.
What do I need to do?
- I am currently employed as a federal wildland firefighter.
Where can I find info on the IFPM, OPM Series 0401 and where I might find
- I'm in Australia (or another country). How do I get a job fighting fire in the
- I'm a US firefighter (or any other non-Aussie
firefighter). How do I get a job fighting fire in Australia?
- Where can I find out what all the acronyms mean?
- How do I make Wildlandfire.com my home page?
- How do I send photographs and what kind of format
should I send them in?
- Where can I find the famous picture with the
moose or the elk in the river with fire all around?
- How can I get a hardcopy of one of the photos here
- I'm having trouble downloading a powerpoint
training program. What am I doing wrong?
Read Ab Speaks.
JOBS & EMPLOYMENT Q&A
So you think you might like to be a firefighter? See if you have the right
Here's a link to answers of
Asked Questions at NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center) about becoming a
Here is some information about
Here are some Job/Redcard/Training
Questions & Answers that came up on theysaid over the past 2 years. (Start
at the bottom.)
Take a look at questions and answers below to see what it takes to be a
firefighter, the kind of crew you could work on, federal firefighter training
and work conditions, hours, pay, physical training and more. Then for how to sign up, go
Also check the BLM site
and the National Park Service site
(besides this Employment page, click on Developmental Opportunities in the tab
Applications for national federal jobs and more information are online at www.fs.fed.us/fsjobs
Most people who become professional career wildland firefighters begin
with a seasonal position. You might try a summer of firefighting to see if you like it,
then approach your captain to get the forest to sponsor you as an apprentice. Apprentices
get some experience on a variety of crews over a number of seasons. (Wildland
Program). More education will be necessary. If you're already a student or
are planning ahead, you might want to take advantage of one of the Forest
A seasonal firefighter can be a member of
- an engine crew,
- a hotshot crew or other organized handcrew,
- a helicopter crew or
- a smokejumper crew.
The tasks these groundpounding firefighters perform are arduous (physically
demanding) and they have to be in top physical shape. The work is hard and can be dangerous. They carry packs and equipment
weighing between 40 and 120 pounds. During fire season days are long. "Groundpounders" often eat and
sleep near fires and likely there will be times when they don't have showers or
laundry facilities. They have to be self sufficient.
When not fighting fire away from their home base, firefighting crews often work
on fire management tasks that can include thinning, brush disposal, prescribed
burning and other fuels management tasks. During fire season some fire crews may
travel to other states and regions to help suppress large fires. In the future,
if the current dispatch patterns persist, they increasingly may be called on to
respond to "all-risk" efforts throughout the United States such as space shuttle
recovery, hurricane relief work, etc.
Engine crews are designed for initial attack and
extended attack of wildland fires on local or "home" forest units. They are
often used to augment adjacent Forests, other Regions, and local government
responses. In populated and remote parts of the United States, they also
respond to medical emergencies, vehicle accidents, and other threats to
federal wildland program areas. Firefighters on engines are trained to work
with handtools, hoses, portable pumps, radios and other specialized
equipment. These are crews of multi-skilled professional firefighters who
construct fireline, create hoselays and conduct burnout and mopup
operations. These professional firefighters also perform valuable
visitor protection in remote areas. For more information about engine
crews, check out the
FS Engine Crews page
Hotshots and other organized Handcrews are 20-person crews composed of
a diverse but cohesive group of temporary and professional career firefighters.
There are 5 levels or types of crews: Type 1 Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC),
Type 1, Type 2-Initial Attack (IA), Type 2, and Type 3. Handcrews train together
and work together to build fireline, burn out areas
to widen their firelines, and mop up after fire. They use
chainsaws and hand tools such as pulaskis, mcclouds and shovels. Hotshots have
more training and experience than other handcrews. Hotshot designation has undergone
some changes of late. Some Hotshots - the traditional hotshots or Type I
Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) - are a "shared national resource" and come from
the USFS, BLM, NPS, and BIA and are often dispatched
nationwide from NIFC in Boise, Idaho. There are also Regional Hotshots (RHC) and
crews working toward IHC status that may be held closer to home. For
more information: the
page. For info about hotshots, check out the
FS Hotshot Crews
page or visit the
Hotshot Crews List or the
Crews page. The Regional Hotshots do not yet have a webpage.
Helicopter Crews (flight crews, helitack,
usually work in concert with their helicopters and are designed for a quick, aggressive response to wildland fires in remote
areas. These firefighters are "groundpounders" who have often have previous
experience working with helicopters, or are specifically trained for their
particular type of insertion into remote areas via helicopter. Depending on what
they do, they must be self-reliant and work both independently and as an
organized crew on the ground in conjunction with their helicopter or not. For
more information about helicopter crews: the
FS Helicopter Crews page and our
Arroyo Grande Flight Crew photo page.
Smokejumpers are specialized
firefighters who parachute into remote areas for fast, aggressive initial attack on
remote lightning strikes or wildland
fires. Smokejumpers must be self-reliant and work both independently and as an
organized crew. Smokejumpers must be in outstanding physical condition and have
at least one year of prior firefighting experience. For more information about
FS Smokejumper page or the
Easy Reading: Some articles from a
Young Wildland Firefighter on the Line.
A government pay scale determines a firefighter's rate of pay. This is based on
the "grade" level (GS level) at which they are hired -- which is based on
experience and education.Firefighter input:
You have 40
hr. weeks till you get on fires. Pay depends on experience level.
Basically $10 hr. to start, 8 hour days with time and a half for overtime and
another 1/4 of baserate
for hazard pay (whether added on to baserate pay during the 8 hr day
or added on to overtime pay).
On fires you can have extended work shifts of 12+
hours. There's a 2:1 work to rest ratio that's fairly standard. Days off may not
come together or on weekends when fires are goin' and blowin'.
There are very few qualifications
necessary to get hired. However, once hired, firefighters must
pass some required classes: S-130, S-190, I-100, and
leadership classes. They're given as much training as they can handle
and show they can absorb.
Training is designed to provide safety for individual firefighters and
the whole crew. Whether classroom or hands-on, crewmembers
are graded on a pass/fail basis. Firefighters must pass the basic
introductory training before they
"make the team" and the crew is dispatched for fire assignments.
Wildland firefighting can be physically demanding for long periods of time.
This ain't a cakewalk, folks. Fire assignments require that firefighters
work under arduous and stressful conditions - working in heavy smoke
and intense heat, climbing steep and rugged terrain, and working
with minimal sleep or rest, working in and living in
a dirty environment and carrying heavy packs and equipment. Showers and hot meals are not generally available on
a daily basis, and firefighters can be away from their "home forest"
for weeks at a time. They're often required to be on call, and
must leave within two hours of being
notified. Sometimes they are also called on to "hurry up and wait"
depending on what the fire is doing and if and where they're needed.
They need to be in shape to meet the rigors of the job and the
Being physically fit is important not only for the individual, but also for the crew.
Physical fitness allows individuals to maintain mental fitness as
well which can help them maintain situational awareness (SA)
when their life may depend on it.
From day one you have to report to work in good physical
condition. Start ahead of time with a workout plan and make sure you're in
shape. Anyone assigned to a firefighting position has to pass a physical exam as
well as a fitness test (Work Capacity Test, WCT) administered by the Forest
Service or other federal agency. Getting hired into a particular position can
require a particular standard of physical fitness beyond the WCT, for example
Hotshots and Smokejumpers demand higher standards than other kinds of crews
because they often work under more extreme and stressful conditions. You can
look online at some of the various crew websites above to find out what is
required for the job you're interested in. Here's the basic information on the
physical exam and
Work Capacity Test.
Here's one Hotshot's
week training regimen.
regimen website from the Federal Fire and Aviation Safety Team
Firefighters must report to work on time with the proper equipment every
day! This job isn't for wimps. You have to be able to carry everything you bring. When you report to work
you'll be issued fire gear -- from protective clothing to individual fireline
equipment. It's your responsibility to keep your assigned equipment in working
order during the fire season.
If you're on a handcrew, here's a list of
equipment you should take.
Firefighter reply: Apply immediately, and often. More
importantly you need to get 'face time' with potential employers... ie. Engine
Captains, Crew Bosses, Battalion Chiefs, etc. You must be sure to make a good
first impression! That matters, no matter what anyone says... First Impressions
Ab comment: Ask about seasonal positions at your local Forest or the Forest
where you'd like to work in December and January. Position descriptions
of vacancies are posted by OPM beginning then. Look on the wildlandfire.com
Series pages. Series 0462, 0455 and 0401 are the important ones. If you don't
have a Forest in mind, do some research to see which ones might interest you and
figure out which ones have a lot of fire.
Fire Career minded folks should be looking at 0401 and planning
to get their college degree. We'll add more on this topic when
advice to new people looking for jobs. Start at the bottom.
Well everybody is different about what they want to take out on the line with
The six things you do need are:
- -fusees (flares)
- -your fire shelter
- -2 MREs or 24-hr worth of food
- -couple of granola or energy bars
- -a long-sleeve thermal shirt (some say "and a sweatshirt")
- -wool hat
- -Leatherman type utility knife
- -waterproof matches in a ziplock
- -50 feet of parachute cord
- -a map of the forest
- -a compass
- -1-2 pair of socks
- -extra boot laces
- -very small toothbrush and toothpaste (don't laugh)
- -a small 1st aid kit
- -a poncho or rain slicker
- -1 or 2 emergency (space) blankets
- -1/4 roll or more of toilet paper in a ziplock
- -small container of baby wipes <chuckle>
- -clear glasses, especially if you are a sawyer
- -a camera
- -a transistor radio
- -extra AA batteries
- -something to do while waiting at the LZ: a crossword puzzle that I put in
my radio bra or a good book
- -a small canteen cup and some instant coffee in a ziplock.
This compilation is compliments of KPC, Dennis-R5, Matt, and Capt.
Crotchrot (ahem, a former hotshot). You probably don't want to carry all of
these things, but the list gives you a starting place. For another list that
Islander requires of his crew click HERE. Oh, if you
take a camera and get any good pics, send em in! Ab.
Find out about the pack test, now called the
For answers provided by wildland firefighters, check this
advice to new people looking for jobs. Start at the bottom.
Check the WLF Jobs Page
for the following listings and links. You can search via the Office of Personnel
Management, OPM-USA Jobs for
national federal fire jobs. The federal job series for fire are 462, 455 and 401. To
simplify your search for these openings, we select Series
462 and Series 455
and Series 401
jobs two times a week (usually on Tues and Friday) from the OPM-USA Jobs listings. You
can also look at the R5 Enhanced Outreach
site if your search is limited to USFS positions in California.
Applications for the national federal jobs and more information are online at
Applications for USFS jobs can be ordered by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
or by calling toll-free to (877)813-3476.
Try our training links
page for a start.
Here is a quick primer on R-4 fire contracting and Snake River Sparky's view
from the cheap seats.
- NIFC is messing around with a national "call-when-needed" engine contract
based on geographical locations and "best value" pricing to the government.
This means, basically, they take into account experience of crew, equipment
and engine age and capabilities and throw them all into a blender and come
up with what they call "best value." I know NIFC is trying to get it out
this year, but it is behind schedule as it is being churned in the political
grinder. As this document has been explained to me, it is basically a
location-based "super EERA" with no guarantee of income.
- Most regions have what are called EERAs (emergency equipment rental
agreements). Although some call these contracts, they are really agreements
that mean if the government needs what you have, the price has already been
agreed to by both parties and the contractor agrees to follow government
rules of operation such as equipment, min. insurance and workman's comp.,
etc. There is no promise they will ever use you, only how much they will pay
you if they do. But for many, this is the starting point of their
- Great Basin EERAs are managed out of the R-4 Forest Service office in
Ogden, Utah. Contact the contracting officer responsible for engine and
- In the past, contractors with EERAs were mostly dispatched out of the
regional dispatch centers. R-4--as are other regions--is moving the
responsibility for dispatching contract fire equipment down to the district
and forest level. The region is doing this because, in the past, when the
NIFC sit report said there was a 50 acre fire in Elko or wherever, a pack of
out-of-region engine contractors descend on the place, banging on the door
looking for an equipment order number (E-number)--which is the holy grail of
getting paid. So basically, the gov is trying to get rid of the smoke
chasers and fire Gypsies. In the world of EERAs, good operators get asked to
the Ball by dispatch, sleeziods just roam around from fire to fire hoping to
get a date. One quickly learns that the wildland fire community is a very
small world with a grapevine that travels at the speed of light. In the fire
contracting business, your good name is your most valuable asset. So play by
Uncle Sam's rules.
- Since there is a push in R-4 for engine contractors to be dispatched by
their local agencies, it would behoove anyone getting into "the business" to
get to know the Fire Management Officer, the Fire Control Officer and the
Lead Dispatcher in the forest or BLM district These people need to know who
you are, your level of experience, personnel and equipment. If you have a
good operation and equipment and well-trained people who know what they are
doing, and the local agency is somewhat open to using non-agency resources
to pull up the slack on a fire or two, then you might get lucky and get a
call if the season heats up. You might get ever luckier if the year turns
out to be a big burn, which are far and few between.
But then again,
you might live in an area where "no way in hell" will you ever get a call
unless the last dog is hung or River City is about to be overrun by fire and
they don't have anything else to throw at it. In this situation, either
you're a lousy operator with a bad reputation--sort of like the Clampets
showing up with a flatbed farm truck with a septic tank and trash pump on
the back and helping themselves to agency equipment whenever no one's
looking--or, the fire gods may have an attitude towards non-agency fire
people in general. If either of these is the case, find another line of
work. You're screwed.
- Although they're about as rare as 1943-S pennies, some forests let
"exclusive use" engine contracts. In these situations, contractors are paid
to place personnel or equipment in a specific location for a specified
period of time. There is a highly competitive bidding process for these.
- Now, a reality check. There is no shortage of contractors with Type 6
engines looking for work. Since they are easy to build and relatively cheap
to operate, and can be used in the off-season to haul concrete forms, hay or
whatever, they are quite common. I was on a fire in R-5 (California) several
years ago and saw a 1/2 mile long line of private Type Six engines.
contracting with your eyes open, realizing that the engine itself is just a
fraction of the total cost of keeping it and its crew on the road with
specialized equipment, vehicle insurance, general liability, fuel and
maintenance and workman's comp. Since Region 4 is not known for its
thousands of rippling lakes and other handy water sources, fire managers in
the Great Basin like rigs that carry a lot of water, such as Type 4s and 5s.
But the bigger the water payload, the more expensive the rig.
- Then there is the issue of Red Cards, the universal proof of fire training
and qualifications. If you or your people don't have them and are not
qualified at the level you are trying to work at, then you are going to get
shown the door (and rightfully should). Also, even though you may be able to
take wildland classes from a local forest or BLM district, they generally
will not issue Red Cards. Consider joining one of the contractor
associations who have a good Red Card program.
- Finally, good fire contractors are a vital resource to the Government.
Making a fire contracting business work takes a lot of planning, training
and effort. Not to mention a good business sense, a source of capital and
people skills. Many failed fire contract businesses learned through hard
experience that putting a pump, tank and hose reel on a truck was one of the
easiest parts of starting the business.
To enter the AD system, any former fed must first
gather ALL their certification and training records together, so any position
you identify as qualified, is documented in the paper format, including position
evaluations from assignments. Then, contact the federal fire dispatch center
closest to your home, or the state/regional coordination center, to see if they
have a need. They can process you according to their protocols, as each region
is a little different. Just BE SURE you can document the training, task books
and positions you intend to claim for a redcard. If any of the positions require
fire refreshers and annual pack test completion, and the dispatch center can
direct you on that too. (submitted by MJD, Dispatcher, USFS)
The University of Idaho website has information regarding the requirements to
fulfill the IFPM 401 Series Stds.
In the move to a professional firefighting series, the powers that be have
come up with having everyone be a biologist plus (opm series 0401). Fed
employees currently in positions designated after the Storm King Incident in '94
(14 key positions) now have to get up to speed in the transition to professional
fire manager -> biologist + fire by 2007. The fed agencies are working with
University of Idaho to help people find online courses to fulfill their bio
degree and fire requirements.
For more info, look here:
U of Idaho
info on 0401 series requirements
For online courses click the first link on the left under Courses.
<downloadable excel spreadsheet file>
For more answers and explanations, go down to Agency Employee FAQ at the
bottom left. <downloadable word doc>
or look at the NIFC Frequently Asked IFPM Questions site:
Courses are being offered on campus at a variety of universities across the
west. In addition to University of Idaho, check University of Montana, and
Humboldt State University and
California Polytechnic State
University, San Luis Obispo and
Here's what MP says:
The University of Idaho along with the Forest Service, BLM, National Park
Service, BIA, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and some state agencies
are working towards to help meet the 401 series standards. Representatives from
these agencies have been meeting with the University of Idaho since December
2004, to determine the best way to meet the needs. The University of Idaho’s
College of Natural Resources is currently putting together classes and programs
that will help employees meet the 401 series requirements. The University of
Idaho is including other universities and colleges as well. If you would like to
view what has been done to date, there is a website where you will be able to
get information about classes and a program as it develops. Any of these three
websites will link you: http://401series.com, http://401series.net or
http://401series.org (same as link above).
Back to Top
This website will explain 401 and the requirements, help you understand how you
will be able to meet them, and what the University of Idaho and others can offer
that will help you. Please remember that currently the website is still under
construction and new information is added all the time as it develops.
The University of Idaho has and is creating more courses that can be taken
on-line that will fit the 401 needs. They are developing short course workshops
that will be given in a variety of places throughout the Intermountain Northwest
and perhaps elsewhere. The College of Natural Resources is working to make sure
the courses offered will meet the 401 series requirements. If anyone has
questions about how the College of Natural Resources can help and what is
currently being done please visit the website or call the College of Natural
Resources, (208) 885-8981 – ask for Cheri Cole. You can also email questions to
You must first secure a visa with a work permit through the U.S. Embassy,
then acquire a resident alien card (green card). After that, you will compete
with U.S. citizens through the seasonal application process.
The hitch is -- before you can get a working visa and green card, you usually
need to have a job in the U.S. and be sponsored by the employer. This is the
kind of thing that you need sort out in advance... You'll need to work with a
private fire employer or a state or city fire department before you even apply
for federal employment in wildland fire.
Most firefighting in Australia is done by volunteers... Here's a comment from
The Aussies have a relatively "closed society" and are able to maintain it
because of the limited means of access! They don't let folks into the country
just "because I want to do it". You must have a skill that the Aussies cannot
fill from within their own workforce. Bushfire fighters are not in short supply:
the Country Fire Authority (CFA) out of Melbourne has about 800 full-time paid
employees and 65,000 volunteers; the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS)
headquartered in Sydney has more paid folks, but 85,000 volunteers. Their fires
generally last only a day or two, except under rare conditions. No staffed fire
stations, no fire camps, everyone goes home at night!
Save your money and be a tourist, but don't count on going "DownUnda" as a
bushfire fighter .
OTHER FAQ NOT RELATED TO EMPLOYMENT
Check the Acronyms
How do I make Wildlandfire.com my home page?
Internet Explorer: go to the wildlandfire.com page you wish to have as
your starting point when you first open Internet Explorer. From the main
menu at the top select Tools, then Internet Options, make sure the General Tab
is selected. At the top in the Home Page setting, you will see a text box
with three buttons beneath. Click the Use Current button, then the OK
button at the bottom. That's it.
Netscape: similar to IE, go to the page you want to have as your home
page. From the main menu at the top select Edit, then Preferences.
Click Navigator in the left side of the new window, then in the middle of the
right hand side you will see a Home Page area, click on the Use Current Page
button, then click the OK button to save changes. You're done.
For photo senders, we prefer jpg images due to the compression to smaller
files, bmps are uncompressed and much larger. However, we can accept and
convert most any file type. We would like all individual files to be under 200k
unless they should be considered for wallpaper, at which point they can be up to
1mb. Bundled photos submitted should be limited to 1.5 mb per email.
Here it is:
It's called Elk Bath. Information on the photographer is available if you click
on the Elkbath link below the picture on the
Click here: Photo-making
The powerpoint programs are large, from over 500k up to 6mb. I wouldn't
recommend trying with anything under a 56k modem and even that will be a slow
process. Try to avoid high traffic times on the Internet, begin the download in
the early morning or late evening. If your computer it still disconnects or
stops in the middle of the download you may need to use a computer with faster
download capabilities. There are also programs available which allow your
computer to reconnect and continue a file transfer from where it left off. Here
is one: http://www.pppindia.com/intl/getagain/
Win95/98/NT. Shareware $10.00. 30 Day evaluation."