How I should make my way into a wildland firefighting career?
I'm a senior in high school in Texas and I was wondering how I should make my way into a wildland firefighting career. I have been accepted into college but I'm not sure if I want to go and I don't know if it will be necessary for wildland firefighting. I don't want to waste 20k dollars on schooling that I don't need for my job.
I am just trying to figure out how to start up my career fighting forest fires. Is it on the job training or an apprenticeship program, do I need college, will I have to move out of state for training?
Hiring requirements vary from organization to organization, but I would say that the vast majority do not require a degree. That said, being educated never hurts, and having a degree may help you get hired (and will help you get promoted later on if you want to become a supervisor). Some of the most desirable degrees in wildland firefighting are related to forestry or forest ecology. You could also pursue meteorology, or a more general leadership / management, emergency management, homeland security, etc. degree if studying forestry does not appeal to you.
Another thing that will definitely help you get hired is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license. Most EMT courses can be completed in a single semester of school, and are typically offered by local community colleges (which are often much cheaper than State Universities. My EMT cost me about $1,200. Not only does this get you a certificate in just 4 months that can help you get hired, but you can often apply the credits towards an Associates Degree. For example, at the college where I teach, the EMT classes fulfill all of the elective requirements for an AAS Degree in Fire Science!
As far as training, it is almost entirely on-the-job training. Initial training is pretty minimal though, so you should be able to find somewhere in state. The first classes you need are called "S-130" and "S-190" (often taught together). 130 is Basic Wildland Firefighter (called a Type II firefighter) and 190 is Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior. Completing S-130/190 takes only about 5 days, give or take 2 if it is a hybrid course (partially online). Mine cost less than $250, not including travel and lodging. That is pretty much the only certification you need to get hired!!!
Once you're hired, you will slowly get more training. After a year or two, you will probably want to have taken S-211 (Water Pumps) and S-212 (Chainsaws), again about a week long class each. From there you'll probably want S-215 (Urban Interface), S-270 (Air Operations), and S-290 (Intermediate Fire Behavior). With those classes and a few years experience you'll probably be ready for S-131 (Type I Firefighter) which will allow you to start leading a team of 2-6 other firefighters.
I hope this helps! Please don't hesitate to ask if you have more questions.
Here is information for training based off of their website:
Firefighters are held to rigorous fitness standards as much of the job occurs in the outdoors. The Work Capacity Test is a series of tests used to determine the capabilities of an individual and ensure he/she is physically able to perform the duties of wildland firefighting. This test is required by every federal agency/bureau before an Incident Qualification Card (red card) can be issued.
It is also recommended that an individual find out if there are any additional standards required of a position and what they are so as to prepare in the off season. This can be done by contacting the specific location of potential employment (i.e. local land management office).
Specific educational requirements are set by each agency. There are multiple areas of academic study that provide credible coursework that is related to various positions within wildland fire. The following are examples of these areas of study:
Crop or Plant Science
Range Management or Conservation
Natural Resources (except marine fisheries and oceanography)
Outdoor Recreation Management
Civil or Forest Engineering
Wildland Fire Science
Here is the Quicklinks page from NWCG for Training Schedules & Related Links: https://www.nwcg.gov/training-qualification-links
Based off of your location, it might also be helpful to reach out to some contacts that coordinate and might know more resources for training in your area: https://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/wildland_fire_management/#faqs
I think the key here would be, to be proactive about your current situation, and gathering as much information about the available programs. From what I'm seeing, there are a lot of different positions available in Wildlife Firefighting, that doesn't necessarily mean being a Firefighter as well, which also might be something to consider.
Prepare for fitness test.
Get your EMT certification.
Consider a fire science degree.
Perhaps contact Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for volunteering opportunities:
Wildland Fire Management
Also, National Park Service, Texas:
Reach out to a firehouse in your community or county; current firefighters might be willing to host an information session for local students (webinar or small classroom groups). Talk to your local fireman, what inspires him about the job and don't be shy to ask for suggestions on internships/apprenticeships in your region or the state.
Best of Luck & Stay Healthy,