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WHAT TO EXPECT – THE SEASONAL WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER
Many applicants are curious and wonder what exactly 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?
Do I have any special outdoor skills?
Am I willing to sleep in a tent for 14 days?
If you answered yes to the questions above, then a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) seasonal wildland firefighter position may be right for you.
Wildland Firefighters brochure (pdf)
The majority of the duties performed by a wildland firefighter are outdoors. Experiencing elements of all four seasons is not uncommon. Depending upon where you are stationed you may experience all four seasons with in a few days. Most duties are related to prescribed burning, wildfire suppression, and fire preparedness. These duties include serving as a firefighter or engine operator during prescribed burning and wildfire suppression activities; conducting regular maintenance and repairs on various equipment such as fire engines, tractors, mowers, chain saws, and hand tools; serving as a crew member during fire break preparation which involves rock removal, mowing, trimming, tree and brush removal. You may have the potential to assist other refuges as well as other federal or state agencies throughout the nation with prescribed burning and wildfire suppression. When not involved with fire-related activities, you may provide assistance in conducting natural resource related project work on behalf of the Service.
Each position is classed as an arduous fire position under the Interagency Wildfire Qualifications Standards adopted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. As a condition of employment, you must pass a pre-employment medical examination (which the U.S. Fish & ildlife Service will pay for). You will be required to achieve an arduous rating on the “Pack Test,” which requires you to walk 3 miles with a 45 pound backpack in 45 minutes or less. The Pack Test is correlated to measures of aerobic and muscular fitness as well as performance in field tasks such as working with hand tools or carrying loads over rough terrain. The Pack Test will be administered when you first report for duty. If you cannot meet the required fitness score for the Pack Test when it is initially administered, you must retake the test within a two-week period. In the event you are unable to meet and maintain the fitness requirements you may be terminated in accordance with applicable personnel regulations.
Most positions require working on an engine or hand crew. This will entail working with as few as two individuals to as many as 20 individuals. Whether it is two or 20 it is imperative that you can work well with others. Communication with others is a vital part of the success of the job. Primary contacts are generally other crew members, crew supervisors, and others in the wildland fire management organization.
Most seasonal positions run 40 hours per week, but part-time and "intermittent" openings may be an option occasionally. Some positions require non-standard work schedules such as four 10-hour days, ten days on and four days off, or other variations. Early and late season employment is on an as-needed basis, depending on weather, fire season, and budgets. A 40-hour week is not guaranteed during pre or post-season work.
If selected for a fire position you will be expected to wear protective and safety equipment. The government will supply most items - hard hat, leather gloves, fire resistant clothing, backpack, tent, etc. However, you will need to purchase a GOOD pair of firefighting boots. You will be reimbursed up to a certain amount for the boots. It is a very good idea to break the boots in BEFORE the first day of work. Other than boots, you will only need to furnish your personal belongings.
Can you drive a truck with a manual transmission? Can you change a tire? Can you run a chainsaw? Can you pitch a tent? Can you tie half a dozen knots and sharpen a knife? Can you read a topographic map? Can you use a compass? Learning how to get by and make do in the outdoors comes in handy. If you don’t currently have any outdoor skills – ARE YOU WILLING TO LEARN? If you are willing to learn the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is willing to train you. Any outdoor skills that you currently possess will be to your benefit.
Many of the refuges in Regions 1 and 8 provide housing for their seasonal fire crews for a nominal fee. In some cases the location of the position may be remote and refuge housing may be the only option. On the other hand some refuges are located near small towns that have properties available to rent. Almost all National Wildlife Refuges in this region are located in rural settings. More information on each refuge can be found at the following website: http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/
Experience on a fire crew can be just a memorable summer job, or it can lead to a career in wildland fire management. Wildland fire experience is very beneficial to anyone interested in pursuing a career in wildlife management, field biology, ecology, forestry, or range management. Hopefully you now know “what to expect” when applying for a USFWS wildland firefighter position. If the information you were provided with sounds interesting then this may be an adventure you will want to take.