Wildland Firefighters

Outlook

Employment Prospects

Employers

The Insurance Information Institute reports that 38 U.S. states are at risk for wildfires. Wildland firefighters are employed by state and federal agencies along with a growing number of private contractors who specialize in suppression and/or prescribed fire. The majority of federal wildland firefighter jobs are found with the U.S. Forest Service (which manages approximately 30 percent of all U.S. federal land), National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employs a small number of firefighters at its national wildlife refuges.

Most federal wildland firefighting positions are located in the western United States—especially in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Starting Out

Many aspiring wildland firefighters break into the field via seasonal firefighting positions or as forestry technicians and range technicians, who also perform firefighting and prevention duties. Others enter this occupation after participating in an apprenticeship. Some federal and state agencies have programs to attract military veterans who are interested in careers in wildland firefighting.  

Aspiring firefighters can learn about job openings by contacting local, state, and federal agencies that are involved in wildland fire prevention and firefighting. Agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (via its Fire and Aviation Program) offer information on careers and job listings at their Web sites. Check out the BLM’s Web site, https://www.blm.gov/careers/careers-in-blm#fire, to learn more. Information on firefighting jobs at all federal agencies can be found at https://www.usajobs.gov. Professional associations such as Women in Fire (https://www.womeninfire.org/job-openings) and job-search sites (such as FireCareers.com) also offer job listings.  

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group says that “wildland firefighter positions are generally advertised in the off-season (October through December) and hired as fire season approaches (January through March). Individuals seeking employment should think about applying by September/October as many announcements close in January.”

Advancement Prospects

After several years of experience, seasonal wildland firefighters may be offered full-time positions or promotions to the position of incident commander or smokejumper. Others are asked to join hotshot fire crews, which are teams of highly skilled firefighters who are assigned the toughest firefighting tasks. Advancement also comes in the form of pay raises and promotions (including to managerial positions). With extensive experience and additional training, some wildland firefighters become forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists. Others become wildland firefighting on-site trainers or fire science professors.

Tips for Entry

Participate in the International Association of Wildland Fire’s mentorship program to obtain career guidance and make networking contacts. Women in Fire also offers a mentorship program.

Check out the Wildfire Today blog (https://wildfiretoday.com) to learn about industry news.

Be willing to relocate. It may open more opportunities.