Forest Firefighter: Salary Info, Job Duties and Requirements

Forest and wildland firefighters often require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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Forest wildfires are becoming increasingly prevalent, and special firefighters are needed to help combat them. Forest firefighters must be in good shape, and prove so by undergoing an examination and a fitness test. The exact duties they perform are based on their credentials.

Essential Information

Forest and wildland firefighters work for state or federal government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. They are specialized and highly trained firefighters working in hazardous conditions to suppress and control wildfires. Entry-level and temporary jobs are available for those who meet physical fitness requirements.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent; some employers may require relevant postsecondary education, such as an associate's degree in fire science
Additional Requirements On the job training, physical examination and fitness test
Certification Advanced firefighter positions require coursework completion from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% for all firefighters
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $49,330 for all firefighters

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information for Forest Firefighters

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for firefighters was $49,330 per year in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those working for federal government agencies, including forest and wildland firefighters, made an average of $49,690 per year, or $23.89 per hour.

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Forest or Wildland Firefighter Job Duties

Using complex equipment and maneuvers, forest firefighters extinguish, control and contain wildfires. The job can be dangerous and involves the handling of heavy equipment. The would-be wildland firefighter should be in prime physical condition and be able to carry loads of over 45 lbs. for long periods of time.

A wildland firefighter's duties depend on his or her level of experience, training and qualifications. Trainees typically assist only in fuel management and support, while elite forest firefighters, referred to as 'smoke jumpers,' parachute from helicopters or airplanes to suppress fires in otherwise inaccessible areas. Some of the other duties involved in wildland firefighting include:

  • Felling trees
  • Conducting backfire and burnout operations
  • Operating water and chemical hoses and pumps
  • Analyzing fire weather and topographical data
  • Constructing landing spots for fire suppression helicopters
  • Predicting fire behavior

Requirements to Becoming a Forest Firefighter

According to the BLS, entry-level requirements for wildland firefighters are not the same for all state and federal agencies. The BLS informs that some jobs may require postsecondary education, like an associate's degree, while others might only require a high school diploma or its equivalent. A degree in a related field, such as forestry, natural resources, biology or fire science, may be favored by employers, the BLS explains.

No matter the level, all would-be wildland firefighters must pass a physical examination and a fitness test. In entry-level positions, training is often provided on the job through agency-specific programs.

To become an advanced wildland firefighter, most federal agencies require candidates to complete additional training from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) or from a program that offers NWCG courses (www.nwcg.gov). NWCG training can be completed either online or on-site, and may cover specific fire suppression techniques, equipment training, fire behavior and safety courses.

A forest firefighter's education and experience level determine their job position. Training is provided on the job, but those who want to move up must complete additional training, and may be required to have a postsecondary degree of some kind. The average salary for all firefighters is $49,330.

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