We hear about wildfires every year. A wildfire (also known as a forest fire, vegetation fire, grass fire, peat fire, bushfire (in Australia), or hill fire) is an uncontrolled fire often occurring in wildland areas, but which can also consume houses or agricultural resources. Wildfires often begin unnoticed, but they spread quickly igniting brush, trees and homes.
Heat waves, droughts, and cyclical climate changes such as El Niño can also have a dramatic effect on the risk of wildfires. Common causes of wildfires include lightning, human carelessness, arson, volcano eruption, and pyroclastic cloud from active volcano, although, more than four out of every five wildfires are caused by people.
There is a special type of person who works to contain and put out these fires: Wildland Firefighters. While it may seem that putting out fires is simple, there’s actually a whole branch of science designed to put out fires as effectively as possible: Fire Science. It all sounds pretty cool to me! Let’s dig a little deeper:
Fire science is a program that prepares individuals to perform the duties of fire fighters. It includes instruction in fire-fighting equipment operation and maintenance, principles of fire science and combustible substances, methods of controlling different types of fires, hazardous material handling and control, fire rescue procedures, public relations and applicable laws and regulations. Degrees that can be earned include Masters, Bachelors, Associates as well as a Certificate.
Sounds pretty cool, right? So if this is what you’re interested in, here are some tips to get you started on this career path:
Prospective wildland firefighters should focus in two areas: physical and educational. On the physical side, fitness is key. Firefighters are held to rigorous fitness standards both during the hiring process — when they’ll be required to pass extensive strength and endurance tests — and throughout their careers. Cardio training like hiking and running — while carrying weight, if possible — will be especially useful, as it imitates wildfire working conditions. As much of the job occurs in the wilderness, basic outdoorsman and survival skills may also be of use.
Specific educational requirements are set by each agency. Applicants who wish to set themselves apart can enroll in fire science and emergency medical technician courses at local vocational schools and community colleges. Most of these programs will be entirely classroom based, but some may allow students to gain hands-on training in the field.
In addition to physical and educational requirements, all applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent degree. Aspiring wildland firefighters may find that fire departments or other potential employers prefer to hire people with previous firefighting experience. Therefore, part of the early training may be working as a volunteer firefighter to get a foot in the door.
Another way to gain education and experience early is via a degree in fire science. Many fire science programs at both the associate and bachelor’s degree levels incorporate wildland firefighting into their curricula.
Being a firefighter is a well respected career and one that will keep you on your toes! And who knew so much science was involved?
How We Science is moderated and edited by the staff of the Natural Resources Trust of Easton.