How to Become a Wildland Firefighter with the National Park Service (NPS)

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Wildland firefighters within the National Park Service (NPS) are members of an elite fire crew that are called upon to contain and suppress wildland fires that threaten public safety, damage natural and cultural resources, and destroy property. Wildland firefighters may also use fire as a land management tool, when appropriate.

The ultimate goals of NPS wildland firefighters is to suppress fire when it has the potential to damage resources or threaten people but restore and maintain it as a natural process when and where it is beneficial.

In FY2012 alone, NPS wildland firefighters worked:

  • Nearly 23,000 acres of emergency stabilization
  • More than 66,000 acres of burned area rehabilitation
  • More than 500 unplanned ignitions that covered more than 145,000 acres of national parkland

The NPS manages 401 national parks and more than 84 million acres of land, 53 million acres of which have burnable vegetation. The NPS is just one five federal agencies that manage wildland fire; others are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of the Interior.

Wildland firefighters of the NPS may also share their resources and manpower with federal, state, tribal, and local partners.

The National Park Service’s Resources for Managing Wildland Fires

Wildland fire management is “dedicated to safety, science, and resource stewardship.” The National Park Service’s wildland fire management program monitors programs to ensure that objectives are being met and that efforts are based on the best available scientific information.

NPS fire management resources include:

  • Hand crews
  • Wildland fire modules
  • Engine and helitack crews
  • Support personnel

Additional crews include two, Type I hotshot crews, an Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew, and an Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew, which are based at Rocky Mountain National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Further, the NPS supports one interagency smokejumper at Yellowstone National Park.

There are currently six, active modules that support the NPS’ wildfire incidents and prescribed fire activities:

  • Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)
  • Black Hills at Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)
  • Buffalo National River (Arkansas)
  • Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee)
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona)
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (California)

National Park Service Wildland Firefighter Job Descriptions Classifications

Wildland firefighters with the National Park Service are classified as follows:

GS-3: Wildland Firefighter Trainee – Wildland firefighter trainees perform assignments as firefighters while developing a working knowledge of fire suppression and fuels management. They may assist trained personnel in more specialized assignments, including backfire and burnout, helitack operations, and hover hookups.

GS-4: Wildland Firefighter – Wildland firefighters at the GS-4 level are skilled firefighters and members of an engine, helitack, hand crew, or fuel crew team. Their skills allow them to carry out specialized assignments, such as backfire, burnout operations, and tree falling.

GS-5: Senior Wildland Firefighter – Wildland firefighters at the GS-5 level serve as senior wildland firefighters on one or more of the following:

  • Hand crews
  • Prescribed fire crews
  • Wildland fire engine crews
  • Helitack crews

Their work also requires them to gather and calculate data on weather, topography, fuel types, and fire behavior when dealing with wildland fire incidents.

National Park Service Wildland Firefighter Education and Experience Requirements

To qualify at the GS-3 level as a wildland firefighter trainee for the NPS, candidates must possess at least one of the following:

  • Six months of general work experience

OR

  • At least one year of post-high school education, which must include at least 6 semester hours of study in one or more of the following:
    • Range management
    • Range conservation
    • Agriculture
    • Forestry
    • Wildlife management
    • Engineering
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Other natural or physical sciences

OR

  • A combination of education and experience

To qualify at the GS-4 level, individuals must possess at least one of the following:

  • At least six months of general work experience, plus another six months of specialized work experience equivalent to the GS-3 level; examples of work must include: on-the-line wildland fire experience in forest fire control and/or suppression or prevention work as a wildland firefighter trainee

OR

  • Two years of post-secondary education, which must include at least 12 semester hours in one or more of the following:
    • Range management or conservation
    • Wildlife management
    • Watershed management
    • Soil science
    • Natural resources
    • Outdoor recreation management
    • Civil or forest engineering
    • Wildland fire science

OR

  • A combination of education and experience

Candidates at the GS-4 level must also meet the Selective Factor requirement, which includes possessing at least three months of experience dealing with wildland fires. Wildland fire experience includes as any non-structure fire that occurs in the wildland.

To qualify at the GS-5 level, candidates must possess at least one of the following:

  • 12 months of specialized work experience equivalent to the GS-4 level; examples of work must include on-the-line wildland fire experience in forest fire control and/or prevention/suppression work as a skilled wildland firefighter

OR

  • A bachelor’s degree with a major study in forestry, ranger management, or agriculture, or in a subject matter field directly related to the position; or at least 24 semester hours in one or more of the following:
    • Forestry
    • Agriculture
    • Crop or plant science
    • Range management or conservation
    • Wildlife management
    • Watershed management
    • Soil science
    • Natural resources
    • Outdoor recreation management
    • Civil or forest engineering
    • Wildland fire science

OR

  • A combination of education and experience

Candidates at the GS-5 level must also meet the Selective Factor, which includes qualification and training as either Fire Fighter Type I or the completion of Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior within the National Wildlife Coordinating Group.

Wildland Firefighters at the State Level

Outside of the NPS, wildland firefighters can be found working through state forest agencies and similar state agencies. For example, in Washington State, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources employs forest firefighters, while in Colorado, wildland firefighters work for the Colorado State Forest Service.

Many wildland firefighter positions in state agencies are filled as seasonal positions. For example, the wildland fire season in Washington usually begins in early July and runs through late September.

In Pennsylvania, wildland firefighters work on a volunteer basis for the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry. Similarly, the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service trains volunteer firefighters every season to serve on national fire crews.

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