Many fire jobs are available with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. National, regional, and refuge level positions, of a permanent, seasonal, or temporary status are continually announced as necessary. Federal jobs are listed online, through a searchable database at USAJOBS. See U.S. Fish and Wildlife Firefighters at work in a video and hear how they love their jobs.
Jobs in wildland fire management are challenging and rewarding. Most firefighters begin as seasonal staff. Some work their way into full-time, year-round positions, while others enjoy an intermittent schedule. Read on to see if wildland firefighting is for you.
Are you curious about what is expected of a seasonal wildland firefighter? A few questions to ask yourself BEFORE applying for a wildland firefighter position are:
- Do I enjoy the outdoors?
- Do I enjoy strenuous physical activities?
- Am I physically fit?
- Do I work well with others?
- Am I willing to travel?
- Am I willing to work long unusual hours?
- Am I willing to sleep in a tent for 14 days?
If you answered yes to the questions above, then a seasonal wildland firefighter position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be right for you!
Most seasonal firefighter jobs with the federal government are temporary, and usually last three to six months. Temporary employees may be re-hired the following season, but re-hiring is not guaranteed. Seasonal firefighters work on engine, hand line, and helicopter crews. These crews often travel to other states and geographic regions to support fire management activities throughout the nation.
When there are no fire activities, firefighters may be assigned a variety of work projects that are essential for day-to-day refuge operations. These activities include fence building, noxious weed eradication, seed collection, and other natural resource management projects.
Firefighters are expected to report to work in excellent physical condition at the start of the season. Anyone assigned to a firefighting position is required to pass a physical exam administered by a physician as a condition of hire. Firefighters must also pass a job-related test of capacity for arduous work. The test, known as the "pack test," consists of a three-mile hike carrying a 45-pound pack over level terrain in 45 minutes time or less.
Seasonal firefighters are trained in wildland and controlled fire techniques, which includes classroom and field exercises. This training continues throughout the season.
Firefighters are issued fire gear, including protective clothing and individual personal equipment such as sleeping bags, packs, canteens, hard hats, leather gloves, fire-retardant pants and shirts, ear plugs, and goggles. The employee is responsible for supplying personal clothing suitable for an outdoor environment, including good quality leather boots laced to 8 inches high, with non-skid soles.
Seasonal firefighters work a five-day, 40-hour week with overtime paid at time-and-a-half, and "hazard pay," which is an additional 25% of the basic hourly salary, paid in certain situations. Two days are scheduled as non-work days each week, but may not occur on the weekend. During fire emergencies, days off can be cancelled, and schedules may change abruptly. Extended work shifts of 12 to 16 hours are not uncommon.
Hourly wages are based on experience and the individual job position. Most entry level positions are in grades of GS-3 to GS-5. The hourly wage will vary according to the geographic area in which you are hired.
After gaining fire experience in temporary positions, many individuals choose to make fire management a career, and are able to advance into permanent positions. These positions provide opportunities for future advancement, health insurance benefits, and retirement benefits.