Veterans to Wildland Fire FAQs
1. What kinds of jobs are available in this field?
Jobs in wildland fire management are into two general categories:
Operations: jobs usually are field-level technical positions.
Support: jobs provide management and usually are regional / national positions.
Jobs in operations can be further separated by functional expertise. Here are a few examples.
Wildland Fire Engine
These positions serve on a wildland fire-engine working with specialized equipment, performing tough tasks such as constructing fire line with hand tools or hose lays, conducting burnout operations, and putting out hotspots (called mopping up) near the fire's edge.
Wildland Fire Handcrew
Crew members build fireline using pulaskis, shovels, and chainsaws. They perform burnout and mop-up activities and often participate in project work consisting of thinning and piling of wildland fire fuels. Some specialized handcrews are trained in monitoring techniques and are used on fires in remote areas where management actions may consist of observing and reporting on fire location and burning conditions. There are different types and configurations of handcrews ranging from five to 20 people, with 20 being the most common. Hotshot crews consist of 20 persons and are one of the most highly trained and experienced crew types.
Wildland Fire Aviation (fixed wing)
Fixed-wing jobs include smokejumpers and airtanker support positions. Smokejumpers are highly trained, experienced wildland firefighters, parachuting into fires during the initial attack phase. Smokejumpers work in various configurations, from small groups or as part of a larger incident management organization. At least one year of wildland fire experience is required and most smokejumpers have at least five seasons of experience on handcrews or engine crews. Airtanker support positions load and service aircraft that deliver retardant to wildland fires.
Wildland Fire Aviation (rotor wing)
Rotor wing positions in wildland fire consist primarily of helitack firefighters. These firefighters travel to wildland fires in a helicopter and either land or rappel near the fire. Once there, they construct fireline using a mix of tools (pulaskis, shovels, and chainsaws, etc). They often patrol fires and work the edges of a fire. Additional duties include providing support to other firefighters by loading and unloading personnel and supplies, and configuring the helicopter for dropping water and delivering supplies via sling-load.
Fuels technicians conduct prescribed fires, collect fuel inventory data, and complete piling and thinning operations as part of project work on wildland fire fuels. They gather data and record information on fuel types, weather conditions, fire behavior and status of work.
Wildland fire dispatchers use radios, telephones, and computers to order and dispatch resources to wildland fires. They are responsible for processing information on fire weather conditions, forecasts, and wildland fire management activities.
Fire Prevention and Outreach
These positions contact visitors, local businesses, and homeowners to inform them about fire danger and advise them on precautions to take to prevent wildfires. They also educate the public about fire's role in the ecosystem and how to protect their property in case of a wildland fire.
Fire Program Management Assistants and Fire Clerks
These positions support wildland fire managers and firefighters by working with budgets, processing time and travel documents, managing training records and assisting with incident support and purchasing.
2. What kinds of wildland firefighting jobs do I qualify for?The answer depends on your work experience, knowledge, skills and abilities. To assist you in locating the wildland firefighting jobs you might qualify for, you can search www.USAJobs.gov for wildland firefighting vacancy announcements. You will find a list of jobs and the specific qualifications needed for them. Also, please see the Fire Management Career Ladder and job descriptions which can assist you in determining which job may be best for you.
3. What skills and abilities do I already have that will transfer to wildland firefighting?Your military training and education provided you with a set of abilities that will serve you well in the wildland fire career field. Your leadership training, experience, and dedication to protecting others also will transfer well to the wildland fire culture. Values such as duty, respect, and integrity are similar to many military leadership values. The flexibility the military requires are qualities that are desirable in the dynamic environment of wildland fire. Your ability to work as a productive team member is a critical skill for wildland firefighters. In some cases your specialized training can apply to wildland-fire career fields, particularly in administration and support roles. Your ability to function in a difficult environment will be helpful for field-based positions. Physical fitness is another element common to both the military and fire service. Similar to the military, a diverse set of skills will provide an aspiring wildland firefighter with an excellent foundation for future success in this rewarding career field.
4. Who hires wildland firefighters? Where are the jobs?More than 30,000 people work as wildland firefighters each year in the U.S. Five federal agencies (Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service) employ 54 percent of wildland firefighters, with state and local agencies making up most of the remainder. Many Native American tribes and nations also hire wildland firefighters.
The majority of wildland fire jobs are in the western U.S., although wildland firefighters work almost anywhere in the country.
5. How much does a wildland firefighting job pay and what benefits can I expect in this career?Your pay will depend on the grade of the position and the locality pay for where your job is located. You can find information on Federal Pay and Leave at http://www.opm.gov/oca/ and then select Salaries and Wages or Salary Tables. The direct link to the General Schedule (GS) Locality Pay Tables is at: http://www.opm.gov/oca/12tables/indexGS.asp Temporary employees are eligible to earn leave and are covered by Social Security and unemployment compensation. Some positions may be eligible for health insurance coverage, but temporary employees generally do not receive other benefits provided to career civil-service employees.
6. How long will my job last if I'm a temporary seasonal employee?The length of your employment will depend on several factors, including the length of the fire season and funding. Typically it will be no more than six months.
7. Are there hiring programs specifically for veterans?Several government initiatives are focused on specifically hiring or assisting veterans in obtaining a job. These programs give employment preference to veterans.
- The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) ensures that veterans are able to compete for federal government positions that previously may have only been available to existing civil service employees.
- The Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA), VEOA and 30 Percent or More Disabled Veterans programs allow eligible veterans to fill certain positions without competition.
More information on VEOA and VRA is at: http://www.opm.gov/strategic_management_of_human capital/fhfrc/FLX02020.asp
- The Disabled Veterans Enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) Training Program allows eligible disabled veterans to receive training or work experience with the VA. Veterans may enroll for training or work experience at an agency under the terms of an agreement between the agency and VA.
- The Veterans Preference gives special consideration to eligible veterans looking for Federal employment. Veterans who are disabled or who served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces during certain specified time periods or in military campaigns are entitled to preference over non-veterans both in hiring and in retention during reductions-in-force. More information is at: FEDS hire VETS at URL http://www.fedshirevets.gov/
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) is an employment-oriented program that assists veterans with service-connected disabilities by offering services and assistance to help them prepare for, find, and keep suitable employment. For more information on this program, visit the Veterans Benefits Administration website at URL http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/vre
For additional information on these initiatives, please visit the VA website http://www.va.gov/jobs/hiring_programs.asp or the Office of Personnel Management's websites:
- FEDS hire VETS at URL http://www.fedshirevets.gov/
- Vet Guide at URL http://www.opm.gov/staffingportal/vetguide.asp
8. What is the typical career path in wildland fire?There is no standard way to advance in a wildland fire career, but there are a few common steps for those who want to progress in the field.
- In the first four-to-eight years of their career, many firefighters work on wildland fire engines, handcrews, or in aviation or fuels. Progression from an entry-level firefighter to leadership responsibilities is possible during that time. Those kinds of experiences provide a solid background in operations, which is needed to move into an entry-level management position.
- During the next four-to-eight years, many wildland firefighters will continue to gain a diversity of experience, often by working in entry-level management jobs in suppression and fuels management. Some of those positions require a college degree in specified fields. The combination of experience and education provide the necessary depth of knowledge needed to move into a mid-level management position, with responsibilities for the oversight of an entire fire program at a local level. Often, these are the jobs that fire personnel choose to remain in for the rest of their careers.
- The next level is for those who want to move into regional, state, or national-level management and leadership positions. Generally, you should have 15 to 20 years of varied experience to qualify for these positions.
9. What options will I have if I find out it's not what I expected?As with most jobs you can always give your notice and move on to something else. Relative to wildland fire, you have options in the type of appointment you accept to evaluate if the job is right for you. Within the Federal government's civilian service you can be hired in seasonal, term, subject-to-furlough, career-seasonal, or career types of appointments. Seasonal employment provides you the ability to try different kinds of jobs within wildland fire, without making a permanent commitment. This type of job is called a "1040 hour" appointment because it does not exceed 1,040 hours in a service year.
Outside of the government similar opportunities exist such as Veterans Green Jobs (http://veteransgreenjobs.org/). The Veterans Green Jobs program provides opportunities to work in a job and receive training while you determine if the job is a good fit for you. Veterans Green Jobs is more than just wildland fire program experience, so if you are uncertain about wildland fire, it can expose you to a variety of employment opportunities.
10. How can I learn more about being a Wildland Fire Fighter (WFF) prior to pursuing a job?Researching the field of wildland fire management should be an important part of your preparation for this career, and you can learn about the field in many ways. You've taken a good first step in using this roadmap, but there is more.
Over the past few years, a handful of documentaries have been produced on the subject of wildland fire. Viewing these programs may help. Many universities and community colleges have courses, and a few offer degrees, in wildland fire science. A meeting with an advisor or faculty member could be a good way to learn about the field.
Get online and see what's available. Websites such as www.wildlandfire.com are good resources. A trip to the library might be useful, too.
After you've done some reading about wildland firefighting, a good second step would be to make an appointment and visit a unit that hires, trains, and puts crews to work. The U.S. Forest Service employs firefighters in much of the country, as do many Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and tribal entities. Get in touch with the fire management officer at these places, share your story, and ask for a tour of the unit's facilities.
11. How can I get in touch with a recent-era veteran who has already become a wildland firefighter?The best way is to network in your area, especially if you live in a part of the country that regularly experiences wildland fire. Contact nearby Federal, tribal, or state land-management agencies and talk to the fire management officer (FMO) or the Assistant FMO. Mention that you are a recent U.S. military veteran, and that you would like to get in contact with a veteran who has transitioned into wildland firefighting.
Here are a few questions you might ask a veteran working in wildland fire:
- What's it like being on a wildland fire crew?
- What kinds of work does a wildland firefighter do when a big fire is burning —and what happens when there is little or no wildfire activity?
- How will my military experience help or hinder me in this field?
- What is the biggest difference between the military and wildland fire that I'll run into if I'm hired?
- What do you like most about your job?
- How does the job application system work?
1. How do I know which jobs to apply for?The most important step is to carefully read the vacancy announcement, especially the following:
- Qualifications Required (both General Experience and Specialized Experience)
- How to Apply
- Required Documents Section
This will help you to determine the jobs for which you feel you meet the qualifications. You can also go to this link for information on "Search for Jobs": http://www.firejobs.doi.gov/index.php?action=search_jobs
2. Am I limited to applying to only one job at a time?No, you may apply for as many jobs as you would like.
3. What does the information in the vacancy announcement mean?Vacancy announcements are used by Federal agencies to announce open positions within their organization. Job vacancy announcements describe relevant information about a position, including the title, salary, duties, qualification requirements, closing date, and application procedures.
4. Are there resources to help me write a resume and application?There are many places on the internet that can provide examples. Here are a couple of websites that may assist you:
5. What kinds of knowledge, skills, and abilities should I highlight on my resume?First carefully read the vacancy announcement especially the sections about major duties and the general and specialized experience required. Then consider what knowledge, skills, and abilities you gained from your military career and address those you feel would relate to the ones from the major duties, general and specialized experience listed in the vacancy announcement.
6. How long will it take for me to hear about the status of the job and my application?The length of time varies by agency, however, you can contact the point-of-contact listed on the vacancy announcement for an update at any time. Or, you may also check the status of your application by viewing your "My USAJOBs" account.
7. If I have questions, who do I call for information?Each announcement should have point-of-contact information.
8. Is my application good for only one job, or will it be kept on file for similar position openings?You will need to apply for each job you are interested in. Some vacancies, however, will allow you to simultaneously apply for the same position in different locations. You may have up to five resumes for different positions in your "My USAJOBs" account at one time.
9. Once I submit my application, what is the hiring process?The hiring process varies among agencies. You will be notified of the status of your application as the qualification review process is conducted. You may also check the status of your application by viewing your "My USAJOBs" account.
It's important to remember that applying for a job in wildland fire does not guarantee you will be hired. Federal agencies, in particular, are trying to make available as many wildland fire jobs as possible to veterans, but there is competition for them. If you are selected for a position, though, here is some information that will help you make a smooth transition into the wildland fire community.
1. What can I expect during my first day, week and month once I start working as a firefighter?In your first week as a wildland firefighter, you will participate in an orientation process, be introduced to co-workers, fill out required paperwork and be issued materials and gear. Your second week will likely consist of attending "guard school." Similar to military basic training, it is there you will learn the entry-level skills needed as a wildland firefighter. You probably will attend this "school" with other first-year wildland firefighters and spend time both in the classroom and in the field practicing new skills. Upon completion, you will have the basic training needed to function in your position, although your training is far from complete. The next several weeks likely will be spent in training activities at your assigned unit with your crew. You will be trained in first-aid, the use of chainsaws, pumps, and other specialized equipment needed to perform your duties. You may also respond to wildland fires or participate in prescribed, or planned, burning activities. The remainder of your first season will be spent gaining experience in both project work and wildland fire management actions.
2. What kind of training will I get as a wildland firefighter?Wildland firefighters are some of the most highly trained land-management employees in the Federal service. An entire curriculum is devoted to helping wildland firefighters gain the technical skills necessary to perform in incident management positions throughout their careers. In addition there is a well-established leadership curriculum to ensure you have the required skills to lead in this high-risk career field. As you progress in your career path, you will need to gain skills in budgeting, personnel management, and project management. These courses can be obtained from a variety of Federal service providers. Costs are usually covered by your employing agency. In addition, there are opportunities to attend leadership training from universities and private leadership development companies. Your agency may also provide opportunities and/or support to attend college courses that pertain to your job.
3. I have a seasonal job. What do I need to do to obtain a permanent appointment?Typically, you will need to apply to vacancy announcements for permanent positions. These positions will be advertised on USAJOBS. To assist you in locating open positions you can go to your "My USAJOBs" account on www.USAJOBS.gov where you can create a saved search to notify you of positions you are interested in applying for that are being advertised. Visit https://help.usajobs.gov/index.php/Job_Search for tips on creating a job search. There are also some Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans, a list of these are located at: http://www.fedshirevets.gov/job/shav/index.aspx for more information on these special hiring authorities you can contact a Servicing Human Resources Office at a Federal or state office.
4. Are there other types of wildland fire work that I can pursue in a few years?Support positions in administration, dispatch, and warehouses are available in some locations. Jobs in fuels management and fire ecology are available and will allow you to spend time in the outdoors as part of your regular work duties. Some individuals pursue careers in timber management, law enforcement, recreation management, and a variety of other jobs that support land management activities.
5. What are some ways I can accelerate my development as a wildland firefighter?There are a number of ways to ensure that you are competitive for advancement in a wildland fire career. Having a diverse operational background by working on wildland fire engines, handcrews, and aviation modules is a good start. Working for different agencies will increase your competitiveness. A willingness to move to different locations is also a plus. Pursuing a bachelor's degree in a natural resource discipline will help you advance to higher-level management positions. Ensuring that you have experience in wildland fuels management should be part of any development plan in wildland fire today. As with any career, taking responsibility for your own advancement by finding mentors, seeking developmental opportunities, and attending training will help you get ahead.
6. How, when, and how often are wildland firefighters deployed on major incidents?Although most wildland firefighters are hired for duty in a local area, once you are trained, you could be sent to a wildfire anywhere in the country. When you start your job, you will be part of a crew or a module. When a major wildfire begins to develop, numerous resources are ordered to respond to the emergency. Your crew may be mobilized through the interagency resource dispatching system to respond to that incident.
Your supervisor will train you in mobilization procedures. Generally, this means being prepared to be away from home for up to 16 days. You will be expected to maintain a gear bag with your clothing, toiletries, and other kinds of clothing and accessories needed for a stay in fire camp. While you are on an assignment, your crew will have meals, transportation and locations for sleeping.
How often you are sent on wildfire assignments or mobilized to other emergencies varies year to year and can also depend on the kind of crew you are assigned to. Hotshot crews, for example, are assigned to fires more frequently than engine crews. However, being dispatched to large fires outside of your home area is more the rule than the exception. Many wildland firefighters enjoy the traveling they do as part of the job.
7. How can I translate my military leadership and decision-making skills into my new career?Operating in the high-risk, dynamic environment of wildland fire requires making rapid and well-informed decisions. Providing leadership in this environment means placing the welfare of your firefighters and the public as the highest priority. Sound familiar? The same attributes that made you an effective soldier, marine, sailor, or airman will enable your success in wildland fire. The best way to translate your experiences with leadership and decision-making in the military is by ensuring you have a well-written resume. Visit these links for advice on writing your resume: