Get This Job: Wildland Firefighter

Life on the fire line isn't for everyone. Could it be for you?

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wildland firefighter
Firefighters carry their gear into the field. Photo by: Thomas HaneyThomas Haney

Think of your current job title. Now consider this one: Hotshot. Heady stuff, right? So is the job description for hotshots, the elite group of wildland firefighters who deploy to fire zones around the country to defend wild spaces.

In recent years, fighting wildland fires has become more important than ever: More than 9 million acres burned in 2015, nearing the all-time record set in 2006. Though the goal is the same, the job description varies depending on the type of firefighting crew, including helitack crews and smokejumpers who attack from above, truck-based engine crews, and hand crews that construct fire lines.

On the frontlines, wildland firefighters battle the blazes during 16-hour days, two weeks at a time, lugging 50-pound packs into the backcountry, and cutting and removing vegetation. Wages start low, but overtime adds up quick.

Saving homes and wilderness under brutal working conditions builds camaraderie. Together, crews endure rigorous training and field deployments that leave them reeking so thoroughly of woods and smoke that animals sometimes walk right past them.

Why I Love My Job

Craig Cunningham, 32/Ruby Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew/Elko, NV

Craig Cunningham has been fighting wildfires since he was a teenager. Now he heads a Nevada-based hotshot crew that battles the country’s most difficult fires, including north of the Arctic Circle, in every western state, and national parks.

And they do it hiker style, trekking their gear up to 15 miles each day, sleeping under the stars on space blankets, and hiking to the fire line in the morning.

Pay $11 per hour (starting) Prerequisites Superior physical fitness Perks Bragging rights Problems Time away from home Prospects no stats available