If you have signed up to join a wildfire crew, you are about to go on the job of your life. You will either love it or hate because there are no in between levels with this type of job. Wildfire crew members who have been on the job before already know what you are in for. It is not an easy job. It’s dirty and it takes a lot of stamina. Be prepared for what you can expect on your first job as a wildfire crew member.
What to expect on your first time out as a wildfire crew member:
Getting to the Fire- Getting to the fire can be a little tricky. Once you reach the airport, you may have to wait for hours before the plane even arrives. You and your fellow crew members may be left sitting in the airport for several hours. This has been known to last for more than a night. Be prepared. You have to show up at the airport when you are told to be there or you miss the chance to go on the fire. There are several things that you will have to do when checking in and that can take a great deal of time. Don’t worry, you aren’t likely to get bored while you wait. There will be many other firefighters in the exact same position. Once you finally get a plane, you will be transported to the encampment area. That is the hope anyway. Sometimes you have to be taken to bus transportation or you have to hike into the area where you will be camping. Be prepared for any possibility when you want to fight wildfire.
Sleeping Quarters- One of the first things you should expect when you go out on a wildfire for the first time as a crew member is to know what you’re sleeping quarters will be like. You will, in most cases be required to sleep in a tent. The tents are very small and meant for the sole purpose of sleeping. There isn’t room for much else. The area that you sleep in will usually be a field at the bottom of a burning mountain. Hundreds of other firefighters could be camped all around you as well. The tents are only big enough for one or two men. Taking your own tent may be the best option if you want the most comfort. Keep in mind that you will likely have to hike with that tent on your back. Don’t get one that is too larger to handle on a long hike before reaching your campground.
Getting to the fire- Getting to the fire is nearly as hard as it is to fight the fire. You will be required to rise extremely early in the morning to prepare for your hike to the fire. Since most wildfires will involve mountains, be prepared for a very strenuous hike. Make sure you eat the breakfast that is available to you. You will need the strength. You never know what your actual job will be when you go on a wildland fire. You could be cutting lines or mopping up the area. Don’t complain about whatever job you get. There will be more opportunities for you go work on other jobs on future fires. Be prepared for a very long day.
Out of Control- When crews are called in to fight a wildfire, the fire is generally out of control already. When the fire begins to be contained, you expect that it will be over with soon. Never get ahead of yourself. Any fire, especially when it has so much tinder to work with as in the woods, can quickly find other ways to get out of control. Weather changes can make the fire go in a completely different direction. Rain sounds like a welcome guest until you include dangerous lightening to the mix. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. There is nothing more unpredictable than fire. Perhaps that is the thing that draws so many people nearer to her. Fire has it’s predictable moments, but when there are as many factors as there are in wildfires, you can never tell exactly what fire will decide to do. This is the most dangerous part of your job as a wildland firefighter. You have to be prepared to run and make decisions that could cost you your life if you don’t make the correct ones. Be well trained and most importantly, be prepared to run up or down the mountain in order to get out of the fire’s path.
Calling Home- Calling home is one of the most difficult parts of being on a wildfire. You could take a cell phone but it isn’t likely you will have a place to plug it in. There are ways to make the battery last longer, but the truth is, you have to use the phones that everyone else uses. The biggest problem with this is that you will be gone most of the day and evening. The phones don’t always get set up right away which could mean several days before you can even tell your family that you have arrived safely. Someone will generally call to let the family know that you have landed, but you won’t get to talk to them. When the phones do get set up, there is an extremely long line to wait in and you will be limited on the amount of time you can talk. In other words, you don’t get to talk to you family much, your call will often be missed because the family member isn’t home and you don’t get to say much while you are on the phone.
Wildland firefighting is a dangerous, dirty and hot job. You work long hours for little pay and no other reward to speak of. People don’t thank you and are often prone to cursing you. Sometimes you don’t get to see any firefighting at all. You have to wear yellow shirts and green pants along with goggles and a helmet. Showers aren’t very helpful because the heat and smoke will make you look and smell as though you haven’t taken one, but you try anyway. You make a lot of money that you have to wait a long period of time to get. You work extreme hours with little sleep. The good thing is, you also meet people that you will bond with for the rest of your life. If you still think it is worth it, the next step is to find a crew in your area that can give you more information on how to become a wildland firefighter.