Wildland Fire Jobs for Dummies
NOTE: This was written regarding the 2018 season, and while the specific dates may have changed, the information generally remains the same. If you are capable of doing these things, you will GREATLY increase the likelihood of being hired.
Note the emphasis on NETWORKING (calling potential employers) CREDENTIALS (EMT) and EXPERIENCES (military, team sports, etc)
Now is the time to start calling Hiring Officials for the USFS Fire and Aviation Jobs especially in Region 1 and Region 4 (Idaho and Montana).
Today is the end of the 2017 fiscal year for the Feds and lots of seasonal firefighters are getting laid off. The rest will get laid off soon. It is also prescribed fire season in the Western US, so hiring managers (your future bosses) might be busy with burning, or hunting, or they too might be getting laid off soon, or using Use-or-Lose leave (paid vacation, i.e. hunting), and then they Holiday's are sneaking up on us soon.
- If you want to get into FIRE, you have to cold call potential employers.
- Hotshot crews and smokejumping are not for rookies. Don't waste their time or your breath by calling.
- Call around to various districts/forests/parks you're interested in working for. Do this between now (early October) and February. The earlier in that time period, the better. Hiring officials keep "score" of who called, when, and how good they sounded. Just call the front desk and ask for whoever does the hiring for "fire."
- Have a few lines rehearsed about why you want the job and why you're worth hiring. Leave a voicemail if the person is out of the office. Ask questions about what firefighting resources they have (handcrew, engine, lookouts, helicopter, etc, basically what job they can even offer you), when to apply, how to apply, IF they are even hiring...
- You can leave a message and Fire Managers will usually call you back. Applying online is basically only a formality. Talking to or physically visiting potential employers is the only way to go. People drive out from NY and Maine to talk to crew bosses out West all the time and are usually rewarded with a job for doing so.
- Have a resume ready to email or hand-in, and offer to do so.
- It helps to keep a spreadsheet or some notes of all the places you've called, who you talked to, what firefighting resources they have, the deadline for hiring, and generally how the convo went.
- Apply to 30+ positions. It's hard to get your foot in the door, but totally do-able. Im from the East Coast and was hired for my 1st firefighter job while vacationing in Costa Rica. Yup, I was calling back to the US and begging for jobs on the beach and it worked out just fine. Did my hiring packet in a computer in Nicaragua...
- If they sound excited and interested in YOU, then you'll probably get an offer if all your paperwork goes through.
- Build a profile and resume on USAjobs. Kind of a pain in the ass, but it's just a hurdle to screen out the unmotivated. Just sit down and do it.
- Unlike the many lines of work, Wildland Firefighting resumes can be 10+ pages long. The longer and more detailed the better. List the sports you've played, whether you hunt or workout, and go into detail about your middle school lawn mowing business - seriously. You are applying to a manual labor job, emphasize relevant experience.
- Also have a short resume for emailing. Do not email your ungodly long USAjobs resume.
- Start working out. Expect high school sports levels of group working out starting the 1st day of work (running a few miles, push ups, pull ups, crunches, etc).
- The pack test, the 3miles w/ 45lbs in 45mins, is a joke. Do not worry about that, only horrifically out of shape people fail it.
- Apply to jobs in Jan-Feb. Applications for Federal Jobs are only accepted during in narrow (2 week long) window nowadays. You find out when this window is by calling prospective employers.
- You will not get an offer if you have not talked to anyone.
- There are also contractors, such as Greyback and Pat-Rick, mostly based in Oregon with secondary bases around the west. Not as good of a deal, because it's usually on-call work, the pay is lower, and it's a tougher crowd, but a perfectly fine entry level position. If you can hack it with them, you can do the job just fine.
- Also look into various state dept. of natural resources/forestry. Anywhere there are wildfires, the state and counties have firefighter jobs, not as many as the Feds, but definitely some jobs. I just dont know much about those.
- You could also just go to jail in California and get on a convict crew...
- I wouldn't bother applying to easy-to-Google programs (e.g. Great Northern or North Star crews in MT and AK respectively), as the competition for the 1/2 dozen entry level jobs is way too intense. A remote district in a po-dunk town is your best bet for getting your foot in the door if you're applying remotely. I started in such a place in the desert of southern Idaho and then moved onto a much nicer setting up in Montana.
- Also look into the Nature Conservancy, they have fire crews, as do the California/Montana/Arizona/Minnesota Conservation Corps, and the various USDL Job Corps programs that are run by the Forest Service.
- 18+ years old
- GED or high school grad
- relatively clean criminal record (you can have a felony/DUI, etc).
- A driver's license is required by the Feds, even if you have a DUI, you still need a valid DL
- A pre-work drug screening is a possibility. The Department of Interior (Park Service & BLM) always drug tests. The Forest Service usually doesn't, but certainly can. Wildland Firefighters are a conservative bunch and open drug use is generally not tolerated. It's a good idea to be able to piss clean and not talk about past drug use.
- A degree helps, but is by no means necessary.
- You do have to have some sort of desirable skill or quality though. I mean, if you're just uneducated, unskilled, and out of shape, it's not gonna work out for you even if you do get hired. An EMT certification, even w/o experience, is probably the best "sure bet" for getting a job as a wildland firefighter, but landscaping/manual labor experience, military time, some education, even just being in really good shape and/or having a lot of sports team experience are all good enough.
TOO LATE FOR 2018?
As of today, 09/29/2017, far from it! In fact, with all the seasonal getting laid off, now is the BEGINNING of the 2018 hiring season - so start calling people.
But some of you won't see this until like February 2018 after Only the Brave comes out on Netflix, by then, yes, you'll likely be too late to become a Hotshot. Oh well, there will always be more fires...
...BUT if you're really interested in doing this, work for an Americorps conservation corps, a firefighting contractor, or go join the military, as those are the most similar types of work, are constantly hiring, and will help you get a federal job next year.