With demand for wildland firefighters as high as ever, its as good a time as any to become a wildland firefighter. While demand may be high, so is competition, so we thought we’d put together an article on how to land that first wildland firefighting job.
First, in order to be eligible, make sure you meet the bare minimum requirements to be a wildland firefighter. You must:
- Be at least 18 years of age and a citizen of the United States
- Be able to pass an Arduous Pack Test
- Be registered for Selective Services
After you’ve made sure you check those boxes it’s time to create a profile and resume on USA Jobs. This is the digital portal the US government uses for its jobs. It’s a somewhat tedious process but completely necessary if you want to get a job.
Hiring dates for wildland vary according to region. To give yourself the best possible shot at landing a job, we recommend beginning your search in December. It may seem early, but when dealing with an organization as large as the US Federal Government, it’s best to get started as soon as possible. Most job postings only stay up for about a week, so you have a small window in which to submit your application.
Now, the steps you need to take in order to get a job in wildland:
1. Create a profile and resume on USA Jobs.
Some tips on putting together your resume:
Unlike resumes for some other fields, your wildland resume should be as long and detailed as possible.
If this is your first year in fire, you obviously won’t have a lot of fire experience. That’s OK. There’s a section on your USA Jobs resume for “additional information”. Use this space to put in as much potentially relevant experience as possible. For example, we used this space to list our love of camping, and how we’ve done many extended overnight camping trips in wild and rugged terrain. Wildland firefighters often camp or ‘spike out’ while on a fire, so this demonstrates you’re comfortable with camping out.
Be sure to list any sports teams you’ve been a part of and what kind of physical shape you’re in. Also list anything you’ve done that demonstrates your capacity for leadership and teamwork (i.e. extracurricular clubs, sports teams, travel, etc).
Be sure to list the maximum number of five references on your resume. List only individuals you know will give you nothing less than a stellar recommendation. Make sure you use accurate and up-to-date contact information for your references (email and phone numbers) because they WILL be contacted. It also pays to notify your references beforehand that they should expect to be contacted by your prospective employer.
When listing your work experience, be sure to highlight aspects of the job that are relevant to wildland firefighting. For example, if you’ve got experience working in a restaurant, write about how it demonstrates you know how to work well in a team and the proper way to lift/carry heavy objects while preventing injury. Think about how your previous work experience relates to firefighting and list it.
2. Apply to wildland positions
You can find wildland positions on USA Jobs by entering the keywords “wildland firefighter” in the search bar. Some crews also provide outreach e-mails informing their recipients of job announcement numbers and posting dates. If you have specific crews in mind reach out to them and ask them when they’re flying their open positions.
If this is your first year, we recommend focusing on getting a job on an engine crew. We know you probably want to be a hotshot but it’s incredibly rare for a first year firefighter to be hired by a Type 1 crew. Look at your first year as getting your foot in the door and demonstrating you have what it takes to get to the next level your second or third year. Work hard and prove yourself in your first year and you’ll have a good shot at landing a Type 1 job next fire season.
To give yourself the best shot at landing a job you’re going to want to apply to as many positions as possible, and then follow up either in person or over the phone. We recommend applying to at least fifty positions to give yourself the best chance of finding someone who wants to hire you.
Because you’re applying to so many positions we recommend creating a spreadsheet listing all of the USA Jobs you’ve applied to. Create a column on the sheet for each of the following:
- Job announcement number
- First consideration date
- Announcement close date
- Type of crew (i.e. engines, helitack, hand crew)
- Whether the position offers housing
- Hiring agency (i.e. Fish and Wildlife, Park Service, BLM, Forest Service)
- Main contact for the position (i.e. engine boss, assistant engine boss, etc.)
- Notes for the position (i.e. who you’ve talked to, when, and what level of interest they showed)
Creating a spreadsheet will help you stay organized and remember where you stand with each prospective employer. Color code each position to indicate priority and which positions afford you the best chance for getting hired.
3. Call all the duty stations you applied to.
The truth is competition is quite fierce for wildland positions, so doing the bare minimum of applying online probably won’t cut it. The reality is that the person on the other end of that application has the daunting task of sorting through hundreds of other applicants. You’re going to need to do something to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do this is to call the person doing the hiring and introduce yourself. This puts a voice to your application and demonstrates you’re serious about getting a job.
When you make the call introduce yourself and tell them why you’re calling. It also helps to demonstrate your serious interest by taking the opportunity to learn more about them and their crew. This is your chance to both make a positive impression and learn as much as possible about the crew you could be working for.
Here are some examples of questions you could/should ask:
- What is their experience in fire?
- How long have they been at their current position?
- Will their be opportunities for training during the season?
- How much overtime does the crew average?
- Is housing provided?
Try to be calm, relaxed, and professional during the call. There’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a casual call for the two of you to get to know each other a little better. You’ll know when you’ve made a good connection. Be sure to make note of it in your spreadsheet and continue to check in with them during their hiring process, calling every two weeks or so. With any luck, they’ll soon be offering you a job.
Accept a position
We wouldn’t be too picky about where. As we said, this first year is about getting your boot in the door and demonstrating you willingness to learn and develop yourself as a firefighter. Get at least a year of work experience under your belt and your options will start to open up.
That’s it for our advice on landing your first job in wildland firefighting. This is the strategy we used to get our first job in fire. We knew there was a lot of competition so we applied to and called over seventy duty stations. Through that process we made a good connection with one engine boss in particular who we had a particularly good conversation with. We stayed in touch with this person during their hiring process in order to keep our name fresh in their minds and they eventually offered us a job.
Our experience taught us that the key to landing a wildland job is persistence. If you demonstrate sufficient will and determination, the person on the other end of that phone will take notice and offer you a job.
Good luck, and see you out on the line.