Wildland fire positions are increasingly more competitive.
I feel extremely lucky that I was hired when I didn’t have a single basic wildland fire class (more on these shortly). I honestly think you have almost no chance of being hired federally without the classes needed to get a Red Card (officially called an Incident Qualification Card).
A Red Card is an interagency certification that says you are qualified to do a certain job that is checked when your crew arrives on a fire. The most basic wildland firefighter qualification/position is called a Firefighter 2 (FFT2).
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) sets minimum training, experience, and physical fitness standards for wildland fire positions. As you move up in wildland fire you will acquire more positions, but FFT2 is what everyone starts out as.
To get your FFT2 you will need these classes:
S-130 Firefighter Training
S-190 Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior
L-180 Human Factors in the Wildland Fire Service
I-100 Introduction to Incident Command System
I-700 National Incident Management System (NIMS) An Introduction
All classes are offered around the country as instructor led classes. Your best luck will be finding them in the western US and even taking a week long Fire Camp that will get you lots of hands on experience and all your classes in one swoop. Some S and L classes you can take online at NWCG.org. S-130 is the only one that you will need to do some field time and can’t do solely online. I classes can be found at training.fema.gov (I know it says IS-100.C and IS-700.B when you click on each class but they are the same thing).
Pro Tips for Applying
Usajobs/How to look good on paper
Wildland firefighter positions are generally advertised in the off-season starting in October with more jobs getting posted through December and January.
I like to set saved searches with specific GS levels and states so I can be notified by email whenever a wildland fire job is posted that fits my parameters. You can get as specific as you like using the filters on the right side of the page (they show up once you’ve done a primary search for wildland fire jobs).
Pay close attention to closing dates as some jobs are only open for a two week window. Your application needs to be COMPLETE and SUBMITTED before the closing date to be accepted.
Starting this year (2018) you will need to make a login.gov account to make and access a USAJobs profile. You don’t need a log in to search and look at jobs, but you will need one to save searches or apply to jobs. It’s not a big deal to make an account, but make sure you have your account information and password written down as it can be annoying to retrieve them year to year if you lose your login information.
In USAJobs you should build a resume in the Documents section of your profile. I made the mistake first of adding my Work Experience on my Profile, but it doesn’t transfer over once I started building a resume. This will make sense once you make an account.
I’ve found that uploading a resume looks weird on USAJobs. The formatting is off. It’s better to just sit down and build a resume from scratch.
Unlike most jobs that say your resume should fit on one page, your fire resume may be pages long. Be detailed! If you are just starting out, write down any relevant skills or experience. If you played sports, did any manual labor like landscaping, you enjoy long distance hiking, cross fit, or hunting, write it down. Wildland fire is a demanding, manual labor type job. Employers want to know you can hack it. Writing down my hobbies was the only reason I got hired for my first fire job.
I asked my first captain why he had hired me with no experience. Most wildland firefighters start in their late teens and early twenties and I was well past that. He said that I had written about a two-week backpacking trip with 18-20 mile days I had done and that I enjoyed long distance running. He figured that he could teach me about fire as long as I enjoyed being outside and pushing myself physically.
THAT WAS IT! Those few sentences separated me from a hundred other applicants and got me the job. If it worked for me, it can work for you.
Any medical experience, especially if you have an EMT, is really helpful in getting hired. If you have Basic CPR or First Aid, write it down. Wilderness First Aid, NOLS, Outward Bound, any outdoor programs you’ve been in, write it down.
I’m not a military veteran, but I’ve worked with plenty of guys who are. Veterans get preference over other civilians in hiring. The applications will take you through questions detailing your experience and what you qualify for. You should also describe your military experience in your resume.
There may be some paperwork you will need such as educational transcripts that can be a pain to get, so make sure you look over the application and get everything together early.
Make sure you have a few good references (work and personal) and be sure to give them a heads up that you listed them as a reference.
Apply to as many places as you can actually see yourself working. Don’t just apply to every town. That isn’t helpful once employers contact you and you have zero desire to actually work there. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.
If you are just starting out, working in a small, out of the way town is a great way to get your foot in the door because you won’t have as much competition. It also gets you a job and experience and then you can go somewhere else your second season. There are plenty of small towns that see a lot of fire activity.
Double and triple check each application for spelling or grammar errors and that you’ve answered every question and gave thorough answers to questions before you submit it.
After you’ve applied/how to help yourself get hired
So now your applications are in and you are just waiting to hear back from prospective employers. If you really want a certain job or to be in a certain area, CALL OR EMAIL THEM! Cold calls are part of the job process.
If you are just starting out do not call hotshot crews or smokejumping bases. They do not want to hire people with zero fire experience. It is a waste of your and their time.
Wildland fire positions are getting so much more competitive. You will stand out and put a personality to a name on their list and show you really want the job. You can find numbers and emails a number of ways.
The best way is to Google “outreach notice 2019 summer wildland fire jobs" + whatever forest or National Park or area you applied for. You may have to do some detective work to figure out which towns are in which forests, but it's not that hard to find out. I found quite a few pdfs that had all the fire jobs broken down by crew type, location, and who to contact for each.
You can also call the front desk for a forest and ask for a fire supervisor, but I think the outreach way is a much better way to get to who you really want to talk to and not waste anyone’s time.
Once you get your contact info, get busy and reach out. Have a pdf of your resume ready to attach if you’re emailing and tell them a little about yourself, why you want to work in that area, and why you’d be a great hire. Leave a message if they don’t answer. Ask questions about the crew, the area, and what their fire seasons are like. If you can arrange a visit and meet in person, even better!
If you’re calling lots of places, maybe make some notes as to who you talked to, if the conversation went well, and if you think it’d be a good fit for you.
As fire season approaches you will start receiving notices about changes to your application status in USAJobs (Sometimes as early as November/December, depending on when the applications closed). First you’ll get emails about the status change and you can check it in your HOME section of USAJobs.
The normal flow is from RECEIVED to REFERRED or NOT REFERRED.
RECEIVED means “The hiring agency has received your job application.”
REVIEWED means “The hiring agency has reviewed your job application, but has not yet determined if you’re qualified.”
REFERRED means “Your application was reviewed and determined to be among the Best Qualified. You will be referred to the Hiring Official. If you are selected for an interview you will be notified directly. Your USAJOBS application status will not be updated until a final hiring decision has been made.”
NOT REFERRED means “Your application has been reviewed. You have been determined to be eligible but not amongst the best qualified based on the quality of work experience and/or education as indicated by your responses to the occupational questionnaire or lack of supporting documents (i.e., transcripts).”
UNAVAILABLE means “The status of your application cannot be determined at this time.” Generally you did something wrong or submitted it before it was complete.
REFERRED is good! You should start receiving interest emails/calls about whether you still want the position and to schedule interviews. Hopefully you’ve already reached out and you’re on their short list of people to hire.
You didn’t get hired or missed the application deadlines
There are other options. Contractors, such as Greyback, Fire Trax, and PatRick, are mostly based in Oregon with other bases around the west. These fire positions are generally on-call work so you need a flexible work schedule and the pay is lower than federal crews. However, it’s a totally fine way to get into wildland fire and get some experience.
The Nature Conservancy, the California/Montana/Arizona/Minnesota Conservation Corps, and the various Forest Service run Job Corps programs all have wildland fire crews.
There are also winter prescribed fire crews hired for pile burning or out east for broadcast burning that you can find in the off season in USAJobs.