Wildland Firefighter Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
A wildland firefighter's median annual salary is about $56,930, and the job includes travel, but is it worth the potential dangers? Read about the job duties and find out if a wildland firefighting career is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career as a Wildland Firefighter

Firefighting - especially wildland firefighting - is an attractive career for those who enjoy an adrenaline rush and want to protect other people. The education requirements are a high school diploma, possibly some college, and professional courses in wildland firefighting for the required certification. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of a career in wildland firefighting to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of a Wildland Firefighting Career
Wildland firefighters can travel the country*
Training can require as little as three classes and professional certification*
Firefighters' shifts can vary, but often include multiple days off in a row*
Prospective wildland firefighters can qualify for this job with a high school diploma and professional certification*

Cons of a Wildland Firefighting Career
Dangerous profession (the rate of injuries occurring to firefighters on the job is higher than the national average)*
Seasonal and weather-dependent, which means that you may not have consistent work*
Wildland firefighters may be required to carry heavy equipment through rough terrain*
Unpredictable weather is something that wildland firefighters must deal with**
Firefighting industry is expected to grow just 7% between 2012-2022*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Occupational Information Network.

Career Information

Job Description

Wildland firefighters extinguish wildland or forest fires within their own state or other states when needed. They may work on the engine crew, hotshot crew, helicopter crew or smokejumper crew. Hotshots are a crew of 20 that work to mop up after a fire and widen fire lines by burning out areas and building fire lines. Smokejumpers parachute into areas that are remote to fight wildland fires. If not fighting a fire, wildland firefighters may work on management of fires that includes prescribed burning, brush disposal and thinning.

Salary Information

According to the salary database Payscale.com, the median annual salary for firefighters with the Red Card Certification for wild land firefighting was $56,930 in April 2015. Median annual earnings ranged from $33,800-$102,000 depending on the state in which they primarily worked. For example, the median salary for wildland firefighters in Florida was $46,827 annually, but in California, it was $102,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Training and Certification Requirements

Initial educational requirements range from a high school diploma to a four-year degree, depending on a firefighter's employer. In addition to academics, a potential wildland firefighter is also required to undertake formal professional training. The NWCG (National Wildfire Coordinating Group) has a system that standardizes training and qualifications for wildland firefighters over local, state and federal agencies. Those completing the required training are issued with a Incident Qualification Card or Red Card. This card certifies that the person has taken the required training and is qualified for a specific position.

An entry-level wildland firefighter position requires taking three courses in survival training, fire behavior and the incident command. In addition, candidates must pass a fitness test, called the Work Capacity Test. The test has three levels - arduous, moderate and light. All requiring hiking a certain number of miles with a pack weighing a certain number of pounds. Training programs are available in two- or four-year schools or vocational institutes.

What Do Employers Look For?

Wildland firefighters can be in demand anywhere that there are forestlands. To get a job as a forest firefighter, candidates must be physically fit and able to carry heavy packs over rugged terrain. They must also have wildland firefighting certification, although some companies may provide training. Below are some examples of job postings open in March 2012:

  • A private company in Oregon seeks new and experienced firefighters to work as an entry-level or experienced wildland firefighter, as a crew boss or engine boss. The company will train qualified applicants.
  • The federal government is hiring a wildland firefighter with experience to fight fires on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Mangement. Openings are available in Oregon and Utah. This job is seasonal.
  • The federal government is seeking entry-level wildland firefighters to join crews and fight fires in Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska. This individual must have a minimum of three months of general work experience or a high school diploma.

Standing Out In the Field

Although it is common for wildland firefighters to have specific education requirements and physical capabilities, you could distinguish yourself competition by undergoing advanced training to become a specialized wildland firefighter, like a smoke jumper - a firefighter who parachutes into a wildfire - or a member of a hotshot crew, who goes into the most difficult landscapes to fight active fires. According to the BLS, upper-level promotions require candidates to have bachelor's degrees in fire science.

Other Careers To Consider

If you're interested in a career in the fire service, but don't think you're cut out for fighting blazes in the forests, consider a career as a regular firefighter. A firefighter must have a high school diploma and pass tests of physical conditioning. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), firefighters earned a median salary of $45,970 in 2014.

Another career option for individuals who want to serve the public, but don't see their future in firefighting, is law enforcement. A police officer works to ensure the safety of a community and that rules and laws are being followed. Police officers usually have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a higher degree in a related field. As of May 2014, the median salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers was $56,810 according to the BLS. Many of those individuals earned between $33,030 and $92,450 annually.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Fire Science
      • Bachelor: Fire and Emergency Management
      • BSCJ: Homeland Security
      • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Fire Science
      • Associate: Fire Science
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Criminal Justice
      • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
    Associate's
      • AA: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Criminal Justice, M.S.
    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice, B.S.
    Associate's
      • Criminal Justice, A.S.
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Leadership Studies
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Criminal Justice
      • B.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • A.S. Criminal Justice
      • A.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Central Christian College of Kansas

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • AA in Criminal Justice

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Bachelor: Fire Science
  • Associate of Science in Fire Science

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

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?

Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Criminal Justice, B.S.
  • Criminal Justice, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?