How to Become a Wildland Firefighter

Fighting Western wild fires is as addictive as it is dangerous. Elite “smoke jumpers” parachute into remote areas with minimal equipment to stop fires before they spread. As you’ve seen on television, recent years of drought and stands of dead timber killed by bark beetles have made Western mountains a tinderbox. Ever wonder how you could get this job, and how much you would make? This post from Backpacker provides the answers.

Job Title: Hotshot

Think of your current job title. Now consider this one: Hotshot. Heady stuff, right? So is the job description for hotshots, the elite group of wildland firefighters who deploy to fire zones around the country to defend wild spaces. In recent years, fighting wildland fires has become more important than ever: More than 9 million acres burned in 2015, nearing the all-time record set in 2006.

Though the goal is the same, the job description varies depending on the type of firefighting crew, including helitack crews and smokejumpers who attack from above, truck-based engine crews, and hand crews that construct fire lines. On the frontlines, wildland firefighters battle the blazes during 16-hour days, two weeks at a time, lugging 50-pound packs into the backcountry, and cutting and removing vegetation. Wages start low, but overtime adds up quick. Saving homes and wilderness under brutal working conditions builds camaraderie. Together, crews endure rigorous training and field deployments that leave them reeking so thoroughly of woods and smoke that animals sometimes walk right past them.

Craig Cunningham has been fighting wildfires since he was a teenager. Now he heads a Nevada-based hotshot crew that battles the country’s most difficult fires, including north of the Arctic Circle, in every western state, and national parks.

Pay: $11 per hour (starting)
Prerequisites: Superior physical fitness
Perks: Bragging rights
Problems: Time away from home
Prospects: No stats available… [continued]

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