Working in Wildland Fire

For anyone looking to work in a field that's physically and mentally challenging, gets you outdoors, provides opportunities for travel, delivers occasional spikes of adrenaline, and serves the greater good, wildland fire checks a lot of boxes. It also takes a lot of people working a variety of jobs to build a successful operation. No matter your skill set, there’s a job for you in wildland fire.

A firefighter cuts brush in a forest with a chainsaw while another waits to haul it away

Members of a hand crew clear brush to create a fire break on the 2019 Hadweenzic River Fire. (Geoff Liesik, Bureau of Land Management)

Supporting Our Workforce

The Interior Department is committed to ensuring an equitably-compensated, well-supported, year-round workforce to manage wildland fire on public and Tribal lands across the country. Supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, our workforce reforms will give employees greater stability, enable them to grow in their positions, and improve the Department's ability to address more extreme wildfires and meet the year-round needs for wildland fire management activities. 

On June 21, 2022, the Biden-Harris administration shared details on pay raises and support for the wildland firefighting workforce from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These reforms represent a generational change for our wildland fire workforce.

Getting Started

The “Firefighter Type 2 (Crewmember)” forms the backbone of our efforts to manage or suppress wildland fire. These entry-level positions frequently work long days in hot, smoky conditions to build fire lines across rugged terrain with hand tools and chainsaws. They also “mop up” after a fire, digging and raking burned landscapes to look for any hotspots left smoldering. In other words it’s dirty, demanding work performed in challenging conditions. Firefighters may be assigned to engine, hand, or helitack crews. These crews perform similar work, though engine and helitack crews receive additional training in the use of wildland fire engines or helicopters (respectively). When not working on an incident, firefighters assist with fuel reduction projects (including prescribed fires), maintain facilities, train, and more.

A group of firefighters use tools to clear grass and create a fireline in a meadow
All new firefighters attend a series of classes to learn important skills, including how to make a fireline. (Photo via EvergladesNPS)

All first-time firefighters (and many other positions working in wildland fire) must attend a series of classes to learn the fundamentals of fire behavior, incident command, suppression tactics, and safety. These classes go by several names (e.g. guard school, wildland firefighter academy) depending on who offers the training. Firefighters must also pass a medical exam and a work capacity test (a.k.a. “pack test”) to make sure they’re physically able to do the work. After meeting these requirements, firefighters receive an Incident Qualification Card (a.k.a. “red card”) that serves as the official documentation of your qualifications.

Career Opportunities

Many career opportunities exist for people who possess leadership skills and enjoy working on the operations side of wildland fire. Working as a Firefighter Type 2 for a season or more may qualify you for the Firefighter Type 1 (Squad Boss) positions that lead small crews of Type 2 firefighters, or you can apply to work on specialized crews like hotshots or smokejumpers. From there the career ladder continues to crew supervisor, fire operations specialist, hotshot superintendent, or fire management officer.

Careers also exist in the fields of fire aviation, dispatch, fuels management, prevention, ecology, safety, training, and many jobs that support wildland fire. To get a better sense of what’s out there, check out the list of jobs in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s position catalog.

Short-term Assignments

Anyone working for the federal government can pursue occasional assignments on wildfires without abandoning their current job or career path. These assignments typically last 14 days and can involve work that’s quite different from what you normally do as long as you obtain the required qualifications. Initial qualifications generally consist of National Incident Management System training followed by a period of time spent working under the guidance of fully qualified people. This experience gives you time to learn what’s expected of you and what to expect on an incident. Positions that play key supporting roles on wildfires include GIS/Mapping, IT support, finance, timekeeping, and public information. For a more complete list, check out the list of jobs in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s position catalog. To learn how you can support efforts to manage wildland fire, talk to your local Fire Management Officer.

Who hires firefighters?

Firefighters work for a variety of federal agencies, state institutions, tribes, and private contractors. Within the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Department of the Interior hire the most firefighters. Most firefighting positions in the Department of the Interior are hired by the four bureaus that manage wildland fire: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How to Apply

All federal jobs are advertised on the USAJobs website, where you can narrow your search by using keywords like agency (e.g. Department of the Interior), occupation (e.g. Wildland Firefighter, Forestry Technician), and location. Entry-level positions may be listed as “Wildland Firefighter (Forestry Aid/Technician)” or “Forestry Aid (Fire Suppression)” and usually pay $11 to $14 per hour depending on location. If you've never worked in fire or for the federal goverment, check out our protips for landing your first fire job.

Most seasonal jobs are advertised from October to December and hired between January and March. If you have a specific location in mind, contact the local land management office to learn more about their hiring schedule and what positions they plan to fill. 

Additional information about careers in fire, including a list of open positions on USAJobs, is also available from the National Interagency Fire Center.

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