The Different Roles in Wildland Firefighting

Amanda Delatorre |


The Different Roles in Wildland Firefighting


Are you interested in a career in wildland firefighting? Your curiosity makes complete sense. Wildland firefighting is an important, impressive career path that brings value to communities and individuals. However, there is not just one kind of wildland firefighter, and not everyone is a “Hotshot.”

As you read this article, you will discover the different roles in wildland firefighting. Each one contributes a part in protecting the public. You should read through the list to see if any of them jump out at you. Though not every position is entry-level, all of them are attainable if you work hard and focus on your goals.

Wildland firefighting is an incredibly fulfilling career. To take your first steps toward a life of purpose and pride, read on to discover the variety of jobs available in the wildland firefighting profession.

Fuels Crew

On average, there are about 10 firefighters to a fuels crew (often called a Fuels Module). Unsurprisingly, they specialize in tasks related to fuel. They may thin timber to bring down the available fuel for a fire. They may add chemicals to fuel that’s determined to be a risk. Their ultimate goal is the restoration of ecosystems adapted to fire.

Much like other positions on this list, a fuels crewmember must have superb stamina and upper body strength. To thin out the fuel available to fires, they must use hand tools and chainsaws.

Engine Crew

There are approximately 3 to 10 people in every engine crew. Their role is all about patrolling and fire suppression. They often do the more strenuous work in putting out a wildland fire. They may use power tools, hand/digging tools, and hoses. This job entails long days of mop-up duty and direct suppression.

Engine crews carry a tremendous responsibility. As patrollers, they must make sure the fires do not cross established perimeters. In that way, they are one of the last defensive lines between wildland fire and peoples’ homes. They take on the initial suppression of big fires. The crewmembers must be in good physical shape to carry the necessary tools in their wildland firefighter backpacks.

Hand Crews

At 18 to 20 members, hand crews are one of the larger crews operating to put out wildfires. They typically make fire lines with hand tools and chainsaws, use drip torches and other devices to burn out areas, clean and mop, and rehabilitate burned locations.

Like many other positions in wildland firefighting, it is not an especially glamorous job. However, hand crewmembers get to go to sleep at night knowing that they did their part to protect people and property from dangerous fire attacks.

Hotshot Crew

Hotshot crews are, as their names would suggest, the hotshots of wildland firefighting. They are similar to hand crews, only more specialized and usually assigned to the most dangerous, rugged terrains. Since their agencies expect them to work efficiently and intelligently in difficult settings, they must be in tip-top physical condition.

They offer an organized, skilled, and mobile workforce for all phases of wildland fire suppression and management. Some even travel all around the country to apply their specialized training to places that need them the most.

Helitack Crew

These wildland firefighters stand out from the crowd because they arrive on the scene via helicopters. The crewmembers go through extensive training on the logistical and tactical uses of a helicopter for wildland fire suppression. Once they land on the ground, helitack crewmembers use chainsaws and hand tools to bring down the flames. In some cases, they may also drop fire retardant or water from the air.

Their helicopters provide valuable support to wildland firefighters. They can bring supplies and personnel during the fires. But other scenarios besides emergency ones utilize helitack crews; they also play an important role in prescribed burns.

When they are not fighting fires, an average day for a helitack crewmember involves positioning gear on a chase vehicle or helicopter, consulting the weather, training, fitness, and daily facilities maintenance. When they do fight fires, helitack crewmembers may work up to 14 hours a day.


Next on our list of the different roles in wildland firefighting are smokejumpers. They probably have the closest job to an action star that wildland firefighters can get. They parachute out of airplanes to arrive at the spot where they need to combat a fire. They help with hazard fuels reduction when land management agencies need it. These brave fighters do not waste time driving, opting to fly in from an airport.

Smokejumpers are especially helpful for combating fires in remote, isolated areas. Even when there are no trails nearby, they can use a parachute to reach the fire and get the job done. They are usually among the most skilled and experienced firefighters, and very few positions are available.

Wildland Fire Module

Wildland fire modules typically include about 10 people. They help with the planning and execution of prescribed fire projects and emergency firefighting runs. To be in a wildland fire module, you must have an exceptionally high level of expertise. There are various tasks you must prepare to complete. These tasks include line construction, long-term planning, fire effects monitoring, and fire management. Wildland fire modules are self-sufficient, as they are often in remote areas.

Prescribed Wildland Fire Crew

The prescribed wildland fire crew supports plans for fire projects. They are often referred to as an Rx Crew. From burn unit preparation to equipment maintenance, the work helps with the overall operation execution. These positions can operate year-round in some environments, ensuring stability. Some seasonal firefighters take advantage during the offseason by joining an Rx Crew in the fall when their summer job is over.


The term Overhead refers to a lot of jobs you don’t see listed here that make large incidents function. From the staff that sees firefighters are paid, basic needs in fire camp are served, and all the way up the chain of command to Incident Commander. “Overhead” serves too many important functions to list. The larger the fire and the more personnel necessary, the more roles they need to have fulfilled. This will be another topic as the chain of command on wildland fire is similar to the military but uniquely tailored to fire.


Everyone would like to be someone’s hero. We would all like to think we can beat our foes, overcome obstacles, and protect the innocent from legitimate threats. But not all of us have the courage to take steps to fulfill that goal.

Wildland firefighting is one of the best ways to become a real-life hero. As a wildland firefighter, you are on the front lines of the most prolific and sometimes horrific natural disasters. During the fire season, wildland firefighters of all positions put their lives on the line to protect communities. In return, wildland firefighters are some of the most respected and admired people working in the United States today.

The Different Roles in Wildland Firefighting