The basic certification for forest firefighters involves completing 32 hours of instruction on safety, fire maintenance techniques and coordination tactics. Forest firefighters are required to complete instruction and to pass a fitness test, such as the pack test, which requires them to carry a 45-pound backpack on a three-mile hike and complete the hike within 45 minutes.
Forest firefighters, also referred to as wildland firefighters, prevent and contain wildfires. Aspiring wildland firefighters must take a training course and pass a physical test, after which they receive an Incident Qualification System Card, also known as a Red Card, granting them the ability to fight fires on federally managed land. Many state agencies recognize the Red Card as well. Firefighters must maintain the certification through annual training and fitness testing.
|Required Training||High school diploma or equivalent, training academy and physical fitness test|
|Additional Training||Annual refresher course and fitness test|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||6% for all types of firefighters|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$52,500 for all types of firefighters|
Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Forest Firefighter Training Programs
Firefighter training leading to the acquisition of an Incident Qualification System Card is available at some community colleges and through state and national bureaus, including the U.S. Forest Service. Some portions of the training may be available online. Many state and local fire departments also offer training courses.
Acquiring a Red Card entails completion of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group basic firefighter class and the introduction to fire behavior class. Combined, these courses require 32 hours of instruction. Coursework includes safety training, fire maintenance techniques and coordination tactics. Obtaining basic certification classifies individuals as Type II firefighters and enables them to work on hand, hot shot or aerial crews in fire operations.
In addition to classroom instruction, prospective forest firefighters must pass a fitness test. Individual fire departments and bureaus have the authority to choose and design their methods of testing as long as they meet the standards set by the National Interagency Incident Management System. Many departments use a pack test, in which candidates carry a 45-pound backpack on a 3-mile hike. The hike must be completed in 45 minutes.
To progress into management, individuals must become certified as Type I firefighters. This requires additional classroom instruction in safety, leadership and fire coordination, as well as the completion of the Firefighter Type I Position Task Book. The task book is completed through a variety of supervised field activities and signed by a certified official.
Both Type I and Type II firefighters must keep their certifications up-to-date. Each year, they must complete the fire line safety refresher training and fitness testing. Forest firefighters must also keep a log of their wildfire deployments that includes locations, dates and other specific information about fire assignments and positions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the employment of firefighters should increase faster than average from 2019 to 2029. Based on May 2020 data from the BLS, the yearly mean wage for these emergency personnel was $56,360.
Forest firefighters who complete their basic certification and pass the physical fitness test are able to work on hand, hot shot or aerial crews in fire operations. Advanced certification is an option for those who want to prepare for leadership roles. All firefighters must keep their certifications up-to-date and complete refresher training and fitness testing each year.