Different Types of Wildland Firefighters

Amanda Delatorre |

Different Types of Wildland Firefighters

Wildland firefighting is a physically and mentally challenging yet highly rewarding career choice that appeals to dedicated individuals who enjoy nature and seek to protect and preserve forest ecosystems. If you’ve made the decision to pursue a career as a wildland firefighter, the next step is to determine exactly what type of wildland firefighter you want to become. From hand crew to a smokejumper, there are several different career avenues you can go down in the field of wildland firefighting. While some paths require specialized skills and training, others are more general in nature. This overview of some of the different types of wildland firefighters will help you determine which option is best suited to your skills and preferences.

Hand crew

Hand crew is a frontline wildland firefighting position. Hand crew members implement either direct or indirect fire suppression tactics to control wildfires depending on the size of the blaze.

Examples of the wide range of duties that hand crew members are tasked with include creating fire lines, burning out areas, and rehabilitating burned out areas. To accomplish such duties, tools such as drip torches, chainsaws, hand tools, and other firing devices are frequently utilized. Typically, hand crews are composed of 18-20 crewmembers which may or may not be supervised.

Engine Crew

Composed of roughly three to ten crewmembers, engine crews are primarily responsible for initial and extended fire suppression and patrolling. Additional responsibilities of engine crews may also include project work as well as support of prescribed fires. Examples of specific tasks that members of an engine crew must complete typically include constructing fire lines, engaging in mobile attacks with engines, hose lay, and burnout operations. Due to the highly strenuous nature of engine crew responsibilities, exceptional physical fitness is required. In addition, the use of specialized firefighting equipment such as hoses, hand tools, and other construction tools is also essential to this role.

Fuels crew

Aptly named, the fuels crew is responsible for accomplishing wildland fire objectives related to fuel, such as hazardous fuels reduction. Their ultimate goal, however, is to restore fire-adapted ecosystems. Examples of the duties of fuels crew members include monitoring pre- and post-fire effects, applying chemicals to unwanted fuels, reducing the availability of fuel, and clearing ecological fuels such as shrubs, woodlands, or timber. In some instances, they may also engage in fire suppression tasks if necessary. Typically, a fuels crew will consist of up to 10 members. As a fuels crew member, it essential to be familiar with utilizing tools such as chainsaws and hand tools.

Hotshot crews

Hotshot crews are typically composed of 20 experienced multiskilled professional firefighters who specialize in extended wildfire attacks. They are tasked with similar duties as hand crews—wildfire suppression, fuels reduction, and other fire management responsibilities—however, their skillsets are far more specialized. In addition, they are also typically positioned in more rugged terrain and tasked with managing the most active and challenging areas of wildfires.

To ensure that their dangerous and challenging tasks can be carried out safely, hotshot crews must also maintain peak physical fitness. Due to the high level of experience, physical fitness, and specialization required to become a hotshot crew, there are very few specialized hotshot firefighters. As such, they are often sent out all over the country when necessary. Those who are interested in pursuing a career as a hotshot wildland firefighter should be prepared to spend significant periods of time away from their home units.

Helitack crews

Helitack crews are wildland fire crews which range from 7 to 24 members that are specialized in the use of helicopters for fire suppression. Typically, helitack crews are called on for initial attacks and are often the first responders to a wildland fire. In addition, they are also responsible for transporting essential personnel and cargo to further support fire suppression efforts.

Those who seek to become a helitack wildland firefighter will likely need to receive training to rappel from a hovering helicopter into remote locations where the helicopter cannot land. Upon arriving at fires via helicopter, helitack crews then use hand tools and chainsaws to help suppress the wildfire.

In some instances, the helicopters that helitack crews utilize are equipped with a fixed tank which can be used to drop water or other fire retardants on wildfires to further support firefighting operations. In addition to responding to emergency situations, helitack crews are also responsible for implementing prescribed or controlled burns to aid in forest management or prairie restoration.


Smokejumpers are a type of wildland firefighter who jump out of airplanes and parachute down to the areas in emerging or ongoing wildfires to provide rapid response where it is needed most. Often, their services are used in time-sensitive circumstances where driving to the scene would take too long. Similar to helitack crews, they are often one of the first groups to respond and engage in the initial attack on wildfires. In addition to aiding fire suppression, smokejumpers also provide hazardous fuels reduction support to land management agencies when necessary. Plane loads of smokejumpers typically ranges from 8 to 10 people depending on the size of the aircraft. These types of wildland firefighters are highly trained and experienced. To become a smokejumper, previous firefighting experience in various fire backgrounds such as helitack, hotshot crews, or fuels crews is essential.

Wildland fire module

Wildland fire modules are self-contained crews that consist of roughly 7 to 10 highly skilled firefighters who must accomplish a wide range of tasks. For example, their duties may include assisting in monitoring fire behavior, line construction, project preparation, and the planning and execution of wildfire or prescribed fire management. Due to their wide skillset and high level of expertise, wildland fire modules are assigned to provide expertise for fires being managed for several different objectives. Often, wildland fire modules must be self-sufficient for prolonged periods of time and perform their duties in remote wilderness areas.

The Supply Cache is dedicated to improving the safety, comfort, and efficiency of all different types of wildland firefighters. As such, we provide a wide range of essential wildland firefighting gear and equipment such as custom wildfire boots, fire resistant brush gear, hoses, pumps, fire line tools, and field instruments. For more information regarding our high-quality wildland fire supplies, contact us today.

Types of Wildland Firefighters