Wildland Firefighters are responsible for preventing and combating forest fires. Their work is dangerous, stressful and physically demanding. If you think that you have what it takes to join this profession, then you should read this comprehensive guide. It will give a detailed explanation of how to become a wildland firefighter in the U.S.
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Should I Become a Wildland Firefighter?
Wildland firefighters usually work under challenging conditions and extreme temperatures. Moreover, they are exposed to flames, fumes and other hazards. Hence, it goes without saying that aspiring wildland firefighters should be in good physical condition and should have good stamina. If you have these qualities in you, along with a compassion for saving lives, then a career in this field would be ideal for you.
Here’s a list of activities that wildland firefighters are expected to carry out:
- Rescue individuals trapped in fire areas.
- Provide emergency medical treatment to fire victims.
- Use water hoses, heavy equipment, and pumps to suppress forest fires.
- Test and maintain firefighting equipment.
- Coordinate with medical responders and law enforcement personnel.
- Conduct public education sessions regarding fire prevention and safety procedures.
If you want to find out more about the education, training, certification and skill set requirements, then keep reading this article. The information presented in the table below has been taken from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Highschool diploma or equivalent|
|License/Certification||Should be certified as an Emergency Medical Technician. In some cases, firefighters may also need to be certified as paramedics|
|Key-Skills||Strong Physical Strength and Stamina, Decision Making Skills and Communication Skills.|
|$50,700 per year|
Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021
Aspiring firefighters are required to be compassionate, as they might have to provide emotional support to individuals in emergency situations. They are also required to have good decision making skills because they have to make difficult and quick decisions in emergency situations. Taking a wrong decision could cost someone’s life. Lastly, they need to carry heavy equipment and may have to stay at the disaster sites for a prolonged period of time, hence they should have good physical strength and stamina.
Steps to Become a Wildland Firefighter
In order to start a career as a wildland firefighter, individuals have to go through the following stages:
The entry-level education needed to enter this field is a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, individuals might need additional instructions beyond high school in order to obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. In order to get the EMT certification, individuals have to study a range of topics, such as dealing with trauma, examining the fire victims’ conditions and clearing blocked airways.
During high school or college, individuals should spend some time volunteering at their local fire departments in order to get hands-on experience. Such experiences will help them equip themselves with the required professional skills and also make them more attractive to potential employers.
This stage involves active job hunting. Individuals can regularly check for job postings and vacancies at the US Department of the Interior or the US Fish & Wildlife Service. They should keep in mind that vacancies are mostly advertised in the off-season, so that employers have a pool of candidates ready to be hired when the fire season approaches. Individuals seeking employment as wildland firefighters should actively search for jobs during the off-season period.
As per the federal and state regulations, firefighters are usually required to clear a series of exams. This includes a written exam and a physical exam. The written portion examines the applicants’ basic firefighting knowledge, while the physical exam tests the applicants’ physical ability and stamina.
Once the applicant passes the exams, he/she will be sent to the fire academy to receive additional training, which will incorporate both classroom instructions as well as practical training. The applicants will be required to spend a couple of months at the academy, where they will be taught a range of courses related to fire-prevention methods and emergency medical procedures. After passing these courses, the applicant would be ready to start his/her career as a wildland firefighter.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Wildland Firefighter?
The process of becoming a wildland firefighter is time consuming and demanding. Applicants are required to complete high school education and an EMT certification before they can apply for a relevant position. The hiring process itself is quite lengthy and consists of a series of tests and interviews. How long it takes to become a wildland firefighter varies from case to case, as every state has its own EMT and fire academy training requirements.
What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Wildland Firefighter?
Aspiring wildland firefighters should:
- Possess a high school diploma.
- Be certified as an EMT.
- Be mentally and physically fit.
- Be willing to work under extreme weather conditions.
To become a Wildland Firefighter in the US, there is no formal education required and high school diploma is sufficient to enter the field. It is however, mandatory for applicants to undergo 16-weeks of firefighting training at the academy. During wildland firefighting training, applicants are required to meet fitness standards that include:
- Cardio Training (hiking and running).
- Strength and Endurance Tests.
- Engine Crew Training.
- Fire Shelter Training.
- Ground Cover Fire Training.
- Technical Studies.
- Hazmat Awareness and Operations.
- Forestry 1 & 2.
- Wildland Fire Behavior.
How Much Can I Make After Becoming a Wildland Firefighter?
According to the stats published by BLS, Firefighters earned an annual mean pay of $50,700 in 2021. How much a firefighter ends up earning depends upon the area where he/she works. Below are the top paying states for firefighters in the US.
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
|New Jersey||$ 84,930|
|New York||$ 72,670|
Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022
Below is also information on the top paying industries for Firefighters:
|Industry||Annual Mean Wage|
|Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing||$ 65,890|
|General Medical and Surgical Hospitals||$ 62,500|
|Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools||$ 61,050|
|Facilities Support Services||$ 58,460|
|Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals (OEWS Designation)||$ 56,640|