Career & Education

Job Spotlight: Forest Firefighter

Sunday, January 07, 2018

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This is one hot, emergency response career!

Recently, emergency crews have been struggling to battle the many fires raging across California. But how exactly do you start a career as a forest firefighter?

First off, it is a career for the physically fit, and aspiring firefighters must pass a physical examination as well as a fitness test to qualify. High school graduates may qualify for some jobs, but others require an associate degree in fire science. Earning a degree in forestry, biology, or natural resources will help workers attain positions of greater responsibility. All forest firefighters receive specialised training.

Training and Education

Training is provided through various programmes, depending on where the forest firefighter works. An advanced wildland firefighter is required by federal agencies to take training from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group through course work online, or in person at a training centre. Students learn safety, get equipment training, and learn fire suppression techniques and fire behaviour. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL) offers more than 1,000 classes each year at the CAL Fire Academy in Ione, California. Education is also offered in arson investigation, leadership development, forest practice enforcement, and basic fire control.

Forest firefighters must be highly trained because they use complex techniques and special equipment to work in the dangerous field of controlling wildfires. The heavy equipment they must carry can weigh over 45 pounds. Boots, helmet, gloves, and flame-retardant clothing must be worn by each forest firefighter for protection.

Climbing the Ladder

On the job, forest firefighters begin by assisting where needed. As experience is gained, they cut trees, set backfires, set up and operate the water hoses and pumps, construct landing bases for helicopters used to suppress fires, and analyse weather and land information to predict the behaviour of the fire.

During the Off season

Even when not fighting fires, forest firefighters are busy inspecting and maintaining their equipment, vehicles, tools and supplies. They must test and repair equipment to make sure that it is ready when needed. All forest firefighters must be able to take orders and work well with their team and other emergency responders under the stress of a forest fire.

Looking Toward the Future

The projected job growth for forest firefighters in the US is five per cent through 2024. They earn a median salary of US$30,617 working for the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, or local or state governments. While the title can be deceiving, a forest firefighter is always ready to respond to not only forest fires, but all kinds of emergencies and natural disasters.

Climate changes, topographical changes, and forest management are issues that challenge forest firefighters. Special individuals, ready and able to put themselves in harm's way for the safety of others, not only in California, but all over the world, are needed for this challenging, adrenaline-filled career.





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