Forest Fire Fighter Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a forest fire fighter? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a forest fire fighter is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Forest Fire Fighter Career

Forest fire fighters can have the opportunity to acquire outdoor skills, which could be attractive to people who enjoy working outdoors. Check out the following pros and cons to see if forest fire fighter is the right occupation for you.

Pros of a Forest Fire Fighter Career
Opportunity to earn shift differential and hazard pay**
Opportunity to learn outdoor skills*
Inexpensive housing is often provided*
Variety of jobs to choose from (Smoke jumper, equipment operator and hotshot crew member are some options)***

Cons of a Forest Fire Fighter Career
Job requires heavy physical labor (Could be tested on ability to carry a 45 lb backpack at least 3 miles)*
Seasonal work (some jobs are only available six months out of the year)*****
Exposure to respiratory hazards****
Some jobs require availability 24 hours a day, seven days a week*****

Sources: *U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, **USA Jobs job postings, ***Wildland Firefighter Foundation, ****National Institutes of Health, *****U.S. Forest Service.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Forest fire fighters control or extinguish wildfires that occur in forests and other unoccupied outdoor spaces. Forest fire fighters operate pumps, direct high-pressure hoses to suppress fires and patrol burned areas to ensure fires don't recur. Other job duties include digging trenches, cutting down trees and clearing brush to construct firebreaks. They also render first aid to victims rescued from fires. This job requires a high degree of physical fitness, which all fire fighters must maintain.

Many forest fire fighters work for federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. State agencies and private companies also hire forest fire fighters, also known as wildland fire fighters, to control wildfires.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all fire fighters, including forest fire fighters, earned a mean annual wage of about $48,000 in May 2014. Job growth for all fire fighters was projected to be a little slower than other occupations; about 7% growth was expected from 2012-2012, according to the BLS. You can also expect heavy competition for these jobs.

Requirements

Forest fire fighters in federal jobs must be U.S. citizens at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Experience in forest fire fighting is a requirement for many government jobs, such as those available through the National Park Service (NPS). Since the job requires an above-average level of physical fitness, all selected applicants must pass a work capacity test known as the pack test, according to the NPS. In order to pass this test, each candidate must walk three miles within 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound pack.

Certification and Skills

Some state and federal positions require national wildland fire fighter certification. To get certified, you'll need to take classes that cover such concepts as basic tools for wildland fires, fire behavior, risk management and tactical decision making. Classes to obtain this certification are available through some universities, state agencies and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service. This certification will make you eligible to work as a forest fire fighter in all 50 states.

Fire fighters should be interested in helping others and have the ability to communicate and react quickly during emergency or stressful situations. Forest fire fighters must also possess the following skills:

  • Deductive reasoning
  • Physical strength and flexibility
  • Stamina
  • Decision making

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many jobs require a valid state driver's license. Some employers require experience in fighting forest fires, while others are willing to provide training for entry-level positions. Below is a sample of job postings from April 2012 to give you an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A timber services company in Oregon wants to hire a forest fire fighter for an entry-level position. This is a full-time, seasonal job. No experience is necessary. A high school diploma or GED is required, and the company will train.
  • A government land management field office in California is seeking seasonal forest fire fighters. Candidates must be U.S. citizens who are physically fit, at least 18 years old and able to pass a physical examination and drug test. Those who are hired must provide their own laced boots.
  • A government agency is looking for seasonal, full-time hotshot forest fire fighters to work in Colorado and Kansas. These are temporary jobs that won't last longer than six months. Applicants must be U.S. citizens at least 18 years old with wildland fire fighting experience. These positions could require a state or commercial driver's license. Those selected must pass a drug test and a physical examination in addition to a physical requirements test.

How to Beat the Competition

Forest fire fighters must be physically fit and able to carry heavy loads for several miles, so exercising, lifting weights and becoming as fit as you can will go a long way toward passing the required pack test and making yourself stand out in this competitive field.

Acquire Education

The BLS reports that completion of paramedic training or a college fire fighter program might also give you the best chance of obtaining employment as a forest fire fighter. Some schools offer degree programs in wildland fire science that can help you stand out as an applicant. These programs teach you about working with other agencies and methods to mitigate fires. You'll learn about air operations and equipment used in wildland fires.

Other Careers to Consider

Park Ranger

If you love the outdoors, but fighting wildfires doesn't interest you, you might want to consider related careers. For instance, a career as a park ranger may be more to your liking. Park rangers perform a variety of functions, including law enforcement and park maintenance. They might provide assistance in search and rescue operations, set up educational programs and handle visitor services. This field offers permanent, full-time jobs as well as seasonal, temporary positions. Some jobs require a college degree, and some require experience. Park rangers earned between $18,000 and $50,000 a year, depending on experience in April 2012, according to Payscale.com.

Fire Investigator

Alternatively, if you prefer the idea of studying fires rather than fighting them, you may want to consider a career as a fire investigator. Fire investigators visit the scene where a fire has taken place in order to gather evidence and determine the fire's origin. Most fire investigators work in fire or police departments and receive training in academies and on the job. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for fire investigators was around $57,000 in 2011.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MPA - Fire and Emergency Services
  • Bachelor: Fire Science
  • Associate of Science in Fire Science

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • A.S. Criminal Justice
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice

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