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how to build a career as a wildland firefighter

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  • how to build a career as a wildland firefighter

    Hello everyone. I was looking for career advice from someone who has moved among the ranks in the wildland fire spectrum. As far as my background goes I have an AS degree in fire science as well as an EMT-B with some IFT experience and sports medical care and 3 seasons of wildland firefighting experience with the USFS. Going on my next season I am aiming to open my firefighter 1 taskbook. What should I do to continue my education in this field? And what other opportunities in wildland fire suppression are there outside of the USFS or other federal agencies? What can I do to better myself? Thank you for any input and stay safe.
    Last edited by omgee; 02-03-2016, 12:36 AM.

  • #2
    I've got about 20 years working a variety of federal fire jobs.

    You will want to get S290 Intermediate Fire Behavior is you don't already have it. That will allow you to apply for GS5 jobs once you have your FFT1 completed (and 12 mo as a GS4 which I assume you will have or will be close to after 4 seasons).

    If you want to stay with the Feds don't be afraid of moving around. If you are with a crew that is taking care of you and helping prepare to move up, great, maybe stick around, but seeing other places and different kinds of crews can be a big plus.

    You don't mention the area you are in / want to work, not all agencies / regions are the same. R5 USFS (California) has far more permanent positions than any other. However competition is also high, and you pretty much need to get into an apprentice position for GS5. Other regions / agencies are more reliant on seasonal employees so you may have more training opportunities. You may find a seasonal GS5 job which after 12 months will allow you to apply for some career GS 6 jobs.

    Also look at working different parts of the nation. It is possible to work the fire season in the west (May-Oct ish) and get another seasonal job working RX fire in the south and east during their burning season (Nov-May ish), either with the Feds or with a private organization like the Nature Conservancy.

    Other training you might consider
    S260 Incident Business Management, this helps you deal with administrative issues you will start to be responsible for as an FFT1, times, travel, the rules for hazard pay, length of shifts, how to report injuries etc. It is now an online course, not exciting but useful stuff. http://onlinetraining.nwcg.gov/node/170

    S290 is also online but you need a sponsor to take it (perhaps your current supervisor).

    A basic rope rescue class (24-40 hours) could be useful to go along with EMT and FFT1. We are starting to see Rapid Extrication Modules used in California to get injured firefighters off of steep terrain. These modules are mostly being staffed with local government firefighters, but I've seen feds attached to them. This is very new so there are no specific quals at this time. If I were to guess though I expect when it becomes an official position it will require rope rescue, FFT1 and 1st Responder or EMT. Some of the hotshot crews are beginning to look at being able to provide this capability within their crew so it could be a selling point for you.


    Work on your resume (lots of people have terrible resumes), and get out there and talk with people to see what kinds of opportunities are out there.
    Last edited by Here and there; 02-06-2016, 09:08 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Thank you for your advice. I feel like I needed to hear that. I'll look for those classes, as I have already have been looking into S290. I work in R5 on the Southern end. I am willing to shift around. But are there other opportunities elsewhere in agencies other than the feds? What is your take on that?

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      • #4
        Originally posted by omgee View Post
        Thank you for your advice. I feel like I needed to hear that. I'll look for those classes, as I have already have been looking into S290. I work in R5 on the Southern end. I am willing to shift around. But are there other opportunities elsewhere in agencies other than the feds? What is your take on that?
        Ok, so you do have familiarity with California. The USFS in California offers the most career opportunity, it is also probably one of the least favorable as far as providing broad experience (we tend to stay where we are, don't tend to move people around crews too much for short periods). We also tend to treat our temporary employees as somewhat disposable, we have career GS 5 firefighters so having one or two inexperienced temps isn't an issue. Most temps only work a couple seasons and then move on to Calfire or another agency, and as supervisors we have less and less input into who we hire. It seems like many supervisors don't put much effort into grooming temps for career positions these days which is unfortunate.

        The other Fed agencies are far more dependent on their seasonals having fewer permanents (often just a Captain and FEO, maybe a 13/13 AFEO) so experienced temps get more opportunity to develop their quals. Also being smaller you tend to see more sharing of personnel between crews which allows you to get a broader base (as well as more opportunity to get out and make some OT). The downside is they have fewer career jobs available.

        When you get outside of R5 you see much the same with the USFS as well. The other regions don't have the large fulltime workforce that we have.

        I can tell you that I see a lot of people coming in at the GS6 level and above from outside of California and outside of the USFS (mostly other Fed, but some from state agencies).

        The apprenticeship is a good program, particularly for someone with 5 years or less, but if you are not a veteran you have to qualify as a GS5 (12 months as a GS4, S290, FFT1) or you have no chance of getting picked up. It is possible, but unusual to get hired as a Temp GS5 in R5, but you can find Temp GS5 at the other Fed agencies in California as well as USFS outside of California.

        I also see a lot of GS5 Senior Firefighters sit in the same spot for years because they don't want to move and there are fewer promotions available than qualified people, mobility is important for upward movement.

        I don't know all of your specifics, you may have it really good where you are so hesitate to say go somewhere else. It can't hurt to look around, see what the BLM and NPS have to offer, look at Region 3 (Arizona / New Mexico) too, they see a lot of fire and have a lot of crews. If you are in Socal you most likely get the Socal locality pay which means you earn a lot more than you will in another area.

        If you feel like you are advancing where you are things are probably good. When you feel like you are starting to stagnate maybe give some other options a look. I think I'm a proactive supervisor who helps my employees, and most of my employees who were looking for a career with us took 3-4 years to become a serious candidate for the apprenticeship. It sounds like you are probably on the right track.

        Comment


        • #5
          I think you hit it on the nail with how it is in R5. It is highly competitive and I can understand why some supervisors can see us seasonals as disposable. This next season I will have an opportunity for a firefighters taskbook and I do look into applying for the apprenticeship especially with a family to support.

          In your opinion, is it easier to get picked up as a GS5 as a seasonal in another region as opposed to being a permanent trying to transfer? I have looked into R2 and R3. What is your take on that being in the supervisor position you are in?

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Here and there View Post

            Ok, so you do have familiarity with California. The USFS in California offers the most career opportunity, it is also probably one of the least favorable as far as providing broad experience (we tend to stay where we are, don't tend to move people around crews too much for short periods). We also tend to treat our temporary employees as somewhat disposable, we have career GS 5 firefighters so having one or two inexperienced temps isn't an issue. Most temps only work a couple seasons and then move on to Calfire or another agency, and as supervisors we have less and less input into who we hire. It seems like many supervisors don't put much effort into grooming temps for career positions these days which is unfortunate.

            The other Fed agencies are far more dependent on their seasonals having fewer permanents (often just a Captain and FEO, maybe a 13/13 AFEO) so experienced temps get more opportunity to develop their quals. Also being smaller you tend to see more sharing of personnel between crews which allows you to get a broader base (as well as more opportunity to get out and make some OT). The downside is they have fewer career jobs available.

            When you get outside of R5 you see much the same with the USFS as well. The other regions don't have the large fulltime workforce that we have.

            I can tell you that I see a lot of people coming in at the GS6 level and above from outside of California and outside of the USFS (mostly other Fed, but some from state agencies).

            The apprenticeship is a good program, particularly for someone with 5 years or less, but if you are not a veteran you have to qualify as a GS5 (12 months as a GS4, S290, FFT1) or you have no chance of getting picked up. It is possible, but unusual to get hired as a Temp GS5 in R5, but you can find Temp GS5 at the other Fed agencies in California as well as USFS outside of California.

            I also see a lot of GS5 Senior Firefighters sit in the same spot for years because they don't want to move and there are fewer promotions available than qualified people, mobility is important for upward movement.

            I don't know all of your specifics, you may have it really good where you are so hesitate to say go somewhere else. It can't hurt to look around, see what the BLM and NPS have to offer, look at Region 3 (Arizona / New Mexico) too, they see a lot of fire and have a lot of crews. If you are in Socal you most likely get the Socal locality pay which means you earn a lot more than you will in another area.

            If you feel like you are advancing where you are things are probably good. When you feel like you are starting to stagnate maybe give some other options a look. I think I'm a proactive supervisor who helps my employees, and most of my employees who were looking for a career with us took 3-4 years to become a serious candidate for the apprenticeship. It sounds like you are probably on the right track.
            Its been a year since I've read this and I've been curious to find where I can get RX fire experience during the CA off season, about November-May? Which agencies do it and when would be a good time to start inquiring about it?

            Comment


            • #7
              Sorry I missed your post last year.

              I'm not really sure how getting in outside of R5 compares to within R5 these days but as a temp I think there is much more opportunity to develop. There is the issue of the smaller work force though meaning fewer permanent positions. The removing supervisors from hiring seems to be spreading from R5 which is unfortunate. Including the other regions in your job search can only help though, more applications means more chances to get hired.

              Once you have 12 months as a GS5 there will be far more opportunities available to you.

              In 2016 Congress passed the Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act which allows "long term" temporary workers (24 months of service) to apply as if they had career status. Some hoops to go through but it is a major help to people like you who have come back season after season.




              As to your recent question, R8 which is the south east U.S. hires temps for RX work in our off season. The forests, national parks and wildlife refuges burn hundreds of thousands of acres every year with RX fire. These jobs are on USAJOBS under the 0462 or 0455 series just like any other fed wildland fire job. USFS, National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife all have good opportunities for this down there.

              Eglin Air Force Base in Florida also has a large RX fire program that uses a mix of Fed permanent employees, detailers from other agencies and contract temp workers.

              The Nature Conservancy is a private non-profit conservation organization that has RX burn crews. One of my past temps did a couple off seasons with them in North Dakota and had a good experience.

              http://www.nature.org/about-us/careers/

              Some of the state forestry agencies in the south east may also hire temporary fire crews for RX burning, but I don't have much experience with them.

              Last edited by Here and there; 03-02-2017, 11:15 PM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Ok thank you I appreciate the reply. I will look more into it as the season progresses. I love the job and I would like to know about other opportunities out there. Thank you again for the information.

                Comment


                • #9
                  The apprenticeship is a good program, particularly for someone with 5 years or less, but if you are not a veteran you have to qualify as a GS5 (12 months as a GS4, S290, FFT1) or you have no chance of getting picked up. It is possible, but unusual to get hired as a Temp GS5 in R5, but you can find Temp GS5 at the other Fed agencies in California as well as USFS outside of California.
                  sophie smith
                  hr@ Top Dissertation help uk

                  Comment

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