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Working as a Forest Firefighter

What Does a Forest Firefighter Do

Firefighters control and put out fires, and respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Duties

Firefighters typically do the following:

  • Drive fire trucks and other emergency vehicles
  • Put out fires using water hoses, fire extinguishers, and water pumps
  • Find and rescue victims in burning buildings or in other emergency situations
  • Treat sick or injured people
  • Prepare written reports on emergency incidents
  • Clean and maintain equipment
  • Conduct drills and physical fitness training
  • Provide public education on fire safety

When responding to an emergency, firefighters are responsible for connecting hoses to hydrants, operating the pumps that power the hoses, climbing ladders, and using other tools to break through debris. Firefighters also enter burning buildings to extinguish fires and rescue individuals. Many firefighters are responsible for providing medical attention. Two out of three calls to firefighters are for medical emergencies, not fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Firefighters’ duties may change several times while they are at the scene of an emergency. In some cases they remain at disaster scenes for days, for example, rescuing trapped survivors and assisting with medical treatment.

When firefighters are not responding to an emergency, they are on call at a fire station. During this time, they regularly inspect equipment and perform practice drills. They also eat and sleep and remain on call, as their shifts usually last 24 hours.

Some firefighters also work in hazardous materials units and are specially trained to control and clean up hazardous materials, such as oil spills and chemical accidents. They work with hazardous materials removal workers in these cases.

Wildland firefighters are specially trained firefighters. They use heavy equipment and water hoses to control forest fires. They also frequently create fire lines—a swath of cut-down trees and dug-up grass in the path of a fire—to deprive a fire of fuel. They will also use prescribed fires to burn potential fire fuel under controlled conditions. Some wildland firefighters, known as smoke jumpers, parachute from airplanes to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

How To Become a Forest Firefighter

Firefighters typically need a high school diploma and training in emergency medical services. Prospective firefighters must pass written and physical tests, complete a series of interviews, go through training at a fire academy, and hold an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.

Applicants for firefighter jobs typically must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. They must also pass a medical exam and drug screening to be hired. After being hired, firefighters may be subject to random drug tests and will also need to complete routine physical fitness assessments.

Education

The entry-level education needed to become a firefighter is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some class work beyond high school, such as airway management and trauma care, is usually needed to obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) basic certification. EMT requirements vary by city and state.

Training

Entry-level firefighters receive a few months of training at fire academies run by the fire department or by the state. Through classroom instruction and practical training, recruits study fire-fighting and fire-prevention techniques, local building codes, and emergency medical procedures. They also learn how to fight fires with standard equipment, including axes, chain saws, fire extinguishers, and ladders. After attending a fire academy, firefighters must usually complete a probationary period.

Some fire departments have accredited apprenticeship programs that last up to 4 years. These programs combine technical instruction with on-the-job-training under the supervision of experienced firefighters.

In addition to participating in training programs conducted by local or state fire departments and agencies, some firefighters attend federal training sessions sponsored by the National Fire Academy. These training sessions cover topics including anti-arson techniques, disaster preparedness, hazardous materials control, and public fire safety and education.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Usually, firefighters must be certified as emergency medical technicians at the EMT-Basic level. In addition, some fire departments require firefighters to be certified as an EMT-Paramedic. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certifies EMTs and paramedics. Both levels of NREMT certification require completing a training or education program and passing the national exam. The national exam has both a written part and a practical part. EMTs and paramedics may work with firefighters at the scenes of accidents.

Some states have mandatory or voluntary firefighter training and certification programs. 

The National Fire Academy also offers an Executive Fire Officer certification. To be eligible, firefighters must have a bachelor's degree.

Other Experience

Working as a volunteer firefighter may help in getting a job as a career firefighter. 

Advancement

Firefighters can be promoted to engineer, then to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, and, finally, chief. For promotion to positions beyond battalion chief, many fire departments now require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, preferably in fire science, public administration, or a related field. Some firefighters eventually become fire inspectors or investigators after gaining enough experience.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Firefighters must be able to communicate conditions at an emergency scene to other firefighters and to emergency-response crews.

Courage. Firefighters’ daily job duties involve dangerous situations, such as entering a burning building. 

Decisionmaking skills. Firefighters must be able to make quick and smart decisions in an emergency. The ability to make good decisions under pressure could potentially save someone’s life.

Physical stamina. Firefighters may have to stay at disaster scenes for long periods of time to rescue and treat victims. Fighting fires requires prolonged use of strength and endurance.

Physical strength. Firefighters must be strong enough to carry heavy equipment and move debris at an emergency site. They must also be able to carry victims who are injured or cannot walk.

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Average Salary$54,427
Job Growth Rate5%

Forest Firefighter Jobs

Forest Firefighter Demographics

Gender

male

83.8 %

female

14.3 %

unknown

1.9 %

Ethnicity

White

72.3 %

Hispanic or Latino

14.5 %

Black or African American

7.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

83.3 %

Thai

16.7 %
See More Demographics

Forest Firefighter Education

Majors

Forestry
10.7 %

Degrees

Bachelors

36.4 %

High School Diploma

27.3 %

Certificate

13.6 %

Entry Level Jobs For Becoming A Forest Firefighter

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Top Skills For a Forest Firefighter

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 29.4% of forest firefighters listed fire prevention on their resume, but soft skills such as physical stamina and compassion are important as well.

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Top Forest Firefighter Employers

1. United States Department of Agriculture
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$33,158
Forest Firefighters Hired: 
7+
2. Oregon Department of State Lands
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$38,304
Forest Firefighters Hired: 
2+
3. Nevada Department of Transportation
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$41,531
Forest Firefighters Hired: 
1+
4. United States Army
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$51,026
Forest Firefighters Hired: 
1+
5. Broome County
3.5
Avg. Salary: 
$36,024
Forest Firefighters Hired: 
1+
6. Boise
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$42,772
Forest Firefighters Hired: 
1+

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Updated October 2, 2020