What To Expect When Working as a Wildland Firefighter

Amanda Delatorre |

What To Expect When Working as a Wildland Firefighter

Prior to entering any occupation, it is important to have a strong understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and day to day activities that the job entails. In doing so, you can better determine if you are really a good fit for the role before jumping in head-first. Such an understanding is especially important when pursuing a job as grueling and dangerous as wildland firefighting. If you’re interested in fighting wildfires for a living, consult this guide on what to expect when working as a wildland firefighter.

Work Schedule

If you’re interested in a typical nine to five job with a consistent schedule and normal hours, wildland firefighting is not the profession for you. As a wildland firefighter, you should expect to work 16 or more hours a day when working on a fire or an assignment. In some cases, wildland firefighters are expected to work these long hours for up to 14 days straight, which is called a roll.

When working a roll, the firefighter may also have to spend up to three days traveling before and after the roll, which does not count toward the 14-day period. Wildland firefighters may also have to work night shifts and can be placed on longer shifts that last between 16 and 24 hours, depending on the area one works in and the state of the emergency. However, such long shifts are not very common in the industry.

During peak fire season, it is not common to get much time off. Even getting a weekend off is challenging.

Job Responsibilities

There is more to a job as a wildland fighter than just fighting wildfires all the time. Some of the many job responsibilities of wildland firefighting include:

  • Prescribed burning
  • Wildfire suppression
  • Conducting maintenance and repairs on equipment such as hand tools or fire engines
  • Constructing fire breaks by removing rocks, trimming trees, and removing brush
  • Educating the community on fire safety
  • Fire detection duties such as patrolling high-use areas

While these are some of the general duties that most wildland firefighters must carry out, the exact job responsibilities of the role will largely depend on what type of wildland firefighter you choose to become.

Fitness Requirements

At a desk job, it probably doesn’t matter to your employer how much you hit the gym. In a profession where your safety and the safety of others depends on you staying in peak physical fitness, however, you will have to adhere to some strict fitness requirements.

As a wildland firefighter, part of your job requirements entails staying in good shape, so you are capable of carrying heavy equipment across potentially steep, rugged terrain for hours on end. To ensure all wildland firefighters have achieved the necessary fitness level, they will need to pass an annual Arduous Pack Test that assesses their muscular strength and aerobic endurance. The Arduous Pack Test requires wildland firefighters to complete a three-mile hike while carrying a 45 lb. pack on their back in 45 minutes or less.

Upon passing the pack test, wildland firefighters must undergo extensive pre-season fitness training and continued in-season training programs, which are created by national firefighting organizations such as the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Such programs will ensure that wildland firefighters maintain the strength and fitness level necessary to successfully carry out their duties.

Gear and Equipment

While on the job, wildland firefighters will need to carry a significant amount of gear and equipment with them. The different types of gear that a wildland firefighter should pack includes:

  • A fire shelter for emergencies
  • Fire gloves
  • Canteens and holders
  • A GPS and compass
  • High-visibility flagging
  • A first aid kit
  • Headlamps and flashlights

For longer assignments that last more than a couple of days, additional equipment should be packed into a “red bag,” including:

  • A sleeping bag and compression sack
  • Extra clothing
  • An inflatable sleeping pad
  • Toiletries

The Dangers of Wildland Firefighting

Before committing to a job as a wildland firefighter, it is extremely important to understand the dangers involved. As one would expect, fighting uncontrollable wildfires in remote locations isn’t exactly the safest profession one could choose. However, burns and impact injuries from falling debris aren’t the only threats that firefighters face. A few of the many dangers that wildland firefighters experience on the job include:

  • Increased risk of heart disease due to frequent exposure to toxic chemicals and overexertion, which places more strain on one’s heart. Cardiac-related events are currently the leading cause of death among wildland firefighters.
  • Increased risk of cancer due to exposure to dangerous chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, aldehydes, and dichlorofluoromethane.
  • Increased risk of respiratory illnesses due to smoke and chemical inhalation. Common respiratory illnesses that wildland firefighters experience include abnormal lung function, permanent lung damage, and chronic bronchitis.
  • Impact injuries from falling debris.
  • Burns and entrapment from uncontrollable wildfires.
  • Dehydration as a result of working long, arduous shifts in remote locations that are often hot and dry. 

The Uniform

Business casual has no place here. As a wildland firefighter, you will be required to wear a uniform of personal protective equipment to help you stay safe while facing the many perils of the job. During work, wildland firefighters must wear high-quality personal protection equipment, such as:

  • Leather boots that adhere to USFS and NFPA standards
  • A long-sleeved flame-resistant shirt that secures at the collar and wrists
  • A hardhat
  • Leather fire gloves
  • Eye protection such as goggles or safety glasses
  • Loose-fitting, flame-resistant trousers
  • A flame-resistant brush jacket (optional depending on conditions)
  • Earplugs or earmuffs when working in areas where sound levels exceed 85 decibels

At the Supply Cache, we know that high-quality gear and equipment is essential when it comes to staying safe as a wildland firefighter. As such, we have compiled an extensive inventory of top-quality wildland firefighter supplies. Our online shop makes it easy for the selfless people who risk their lives to keep us and our forests safe to find exceptional, industry-leading gear. For more information about our wide array of wildland firefighting supplies, contact us today.

What To Expect When Working as a Wildland Firefighter