When a forest fire hits an area, all trained personnel in that area are involved in fighting the fire. That’s how natural disasters work. There are many types of fire fighters: forest technicians, smokejumpers, helirappellers, and aerial crews.
Forest Technicians usually spend their days studying and maintaining the forest, but when disaster strikes they are some of the first people on fire fighting duty.
They must be dedicated and have quick reaction time, two key traits of all fire fighters. Forestry technicians may be the first line of communication that a fire has occurred in a remote place or they may be the first person on the scene of a fire. They often live in remote fire watch towers and are the first people to be aware of fires in the wilderness. In order to be a forestry technician you need to be in prime physical health, able to carry packs weighing over 100 pounds over variable terrain, work 18 to 24 hour shifts, and pass a drug test. If you can do all of this, you’ll be paid around $12 to $16 an hour.
Smokejumpers may have one of the riskiest and adrenaline pumping jobs in all of the outdoor careers. When a fire starts in a remote area, they are the ones that jump out of low flying aircraft into the heart of a burning forest. They may jump in with just one other person or with a crew of up to ten depending on the size of the fire. Once they hit ground, they’ll fight a fire for days on end with only their wits and their 100-pound packs. Once they have the fire under control they pack their things out. Usually smokejumpers have 6 month contracts or less and are paid well, including hazard bonuses for when they are in the field.
Experience is a must before you can apply to be a smokejumper. Usually smokejumpers work fighting wilderness fires for at least a season before they are even considered for the job. They also need to have work experience, plus at least 12 semester hours of related forestry coursework if they are college students. Smokejumpers must also be able to pass a variety of physical tests and meet certain physical requirements – you must weigh between 120 to 200 pounds, and be between 5’0″ and 6’5″.
Boot camp takes place in Missoula, Montana each June. There you’ll learn the basics of parachuting, fire lines, chainsaw techniques, orienteering, and you must pass several tests. After passing boot camp, you’re ready to be a smokejumper. A job where you’ll make $14 to $18 an hour plus hazard pay.
If parachuting into burning forests isn’t your thing, you may want to become a helirappeller. Helirappellers do the same jobs as smoke jumpers but rappel into the fires from helicopters.
In order to fight remote fires, both helicopter and plane crews are needed. Aerial fire fighting supplies lots of jobs, including pilots, mechanics, helirappelers, and much more. Helitack is the term used to discuss aviation and fire fighting. All jobs involved in Helitack require lots of experience and skill. If you have your heart set on fighting fires from planes, get started on your training now, as it may take years to complete.
Fire fighting employs lots of extremely hard working, brave, energetic, workers like you. If you are ready to make the commitment to saving your nation’s forests, then it may be time to become a forest fire fighter.