Successfully managing wildland fire often requires quick and decisive actions. To respond effectively, we need personnel who are properly trained, equipped, and positioned before a fire starts.
Practice makes perfect: firefighter Nick Vallardo trains with an engine crew as they prepare for the coming wildfire season. (Lisa Cox, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
$347.1 million: money spent by this program in Fiscal Year 2021
2,328: number of FTE* funded by this program in Fiscal Year 2021
148: number of Interior smokejumpers
18: number of Interior Type 1 Hotshot Crews
635: number of Interior wildland fire engines:
6: number of Interior water scoopers
35: number of Interior air tankers
49: number of Interior helicopters
* FTE (full-time equivalent) is the annual number of "work years" produced by employees. A "work year" is roughly 2,080 hours. Reporting personnel in this way enables a common view of the workforce across government agencies.
The Preparedness Program funds a range of actions that helps us get ready to respond to wildland fire. These include hiring people, training them, tracking their qualifications, planning our response ahead of time, as well as putting crews and equipment in the places most likely to experience fire.
Wildland fire offers lots of job opportunities. Most people start off working as a firefighter on an engine or hand crew. After gaining some experience people may work through the ranks of specialized firefighting positions (hotshot and smokejumper), or choose to fill leadership roles like crew supervisor and fire management officer. There are also lots of jobs away from the flames, including dispatch, finance, GIS/mapping, logistics, information technology, program analysts, and more. All of these positions play important roles in our wildland fire program.
Firefighters work for a variety of federal agencies, state institutions, tribes, and private contractors. Within the federal government the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior hire the most firefighters. Most firefighting positions in the Department of the Interior are hired by the four bureaus that manage wildland fire: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
All federal jobs are advertised on the USAJobs website, where you can narrow your search by using keywords like agency (e.g. Department of the Interior), occupation (e.g. Firefighter or Wildland Firefighter), and more.
Along with our many partners in the wildland fire community, the Department of the Interior helps maintain qualification and training programs for all wildland fire positions regardless of what institution employs them (Federal, State, Tribal). This supports the true interagency nature of wildland fire, where responders with different affiliations frequently work side-by-side.
Individuals use task books to document the competencies, behaviors, and tasks required for successful performance in each position. Some positions require formal, classroom training in addition to performing specific tasks under close supervision. Completed task books must be reviewed and approved before fire managers document new qualifications on an individual’s Qualifications Card (a.ka. Red Card, updated annually).
All firefighters must attend the basic firefighting courses as well as an annual refresher. Voluntary training to increase knowledge and skills is made available on a variety of platforms. Stakeholders in the wildland fire community are in the process of consolidating that training in the Wildland Fire Learning Portal.
Some fire-related jobs require a specific level of fitness as well as a physician’s approval. These medical standards ensure that wildland firefighters receive medical clearance to do their jobs safely in any environment without being a hazard to themselves or their colleagues. Learn more about our Medical Standards Program.
Planning helps land managers make informed, strategic choices in their approach to wildland fire by establishing objectives and identifying risks and challenges unique to their area. Management plans guide preparedness for wildland fire by outlining staffing and equipment needs, as well as how those resources will be deployed when wildfires occur. To learn about plans for land managed by the Department of the Interior near you, contact the appropriate bureau.
While we know wildfires will happen every year, we can’t predict where or when. Professional analysis of climate, weather, fuels, historic fire activity, and other factors helps identify the locations most likely to burn. Equipment and personnel may be placed near these locations to increase the likelihood that they’ll be available when needed to suppress or manage a fire. Agreements between the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and our other partners in the wildland fire community ensure that firefighting assets can be shared between agencies. The National Interagency Coordination Center tracks this movement of equipment and personnel and helps managers locate assistance when local resources become scarce.
Prepare your family, home, and community for wildfires: learn about the threats posed by wildfire and how to reduce your risk:
For those looking for support for community-led efforts to prepare for wildfire, these pre-disaster federal grant and cost-share programs across USDA and FEMA may be able to help.