A hotshot wildland firefighter is employed to combat blazing fire in the wild and forest areas at the federal, state and local level of the United States. A hotshot firefighter goes to such places where equipment cannot. The name “Hotshot” is derived from always being in the hottest areas of the fire. They are the elite team of 20 members specially trained to use chainsaws and shovels to clear the bushes, dig lines and cut down trees to suppress fire in the wild.
Their job is certainly not an easy task. They work 24 hours a day during fire season for about 6 months a year. Hotshot firefighters work in remote and steep terrains, where they get exposed to dry weather, wind, and other poisonous plants. Their work demands to stay away from home most of the time. They also go through rigorous physical training before they get hired. Since the job requires a high level of physical endurance, most of the hotshot firefighters tend to be young, in their twenties or thirties.
How to Become a Hotshot Firefighter?
Being a hotshot firefighter is not everyone’s cup of tea. The job of a hotshot crew is similar to that of the military. It requires a unique breed of people who love working long hours in the outdoors and accepts the physical endurance that the job demands. Following is a general guide with the step by step method on how to become a hotshot firefighter.
Step 1: Know the basic job requirements
The first and foremost step is to know whether you meet the basic job requirements, i.e., educational and physical needs as well as the skills mentioned above. There are different criteria for different countries. Check the specifications required in your country. Secondly, brush up your skills if required. Take out your shoes and go for a hike, assemble a tent, take a variety of courses offered and improve your chances of selection. Maybe volunteer as a firefighter or talk to any of a hotshot crew member and learn from the first-hand experience.
Step 2: Ensure your physical capability
As a hotshot firefighter, one has to handle physically excruciating tasks, so in order to fulfill the responsibility; one has to be physically fit and mentally agile. Whether you meet the required physical standards or not, will be tested through Work Capacity Test (WCT). Before appearing for the WCT, start with your training sessions or hire a personal trainer. Consult with a physician and ensure that you are medically fit to carry out such tasks.
Step 3: Apply and get qualified
The last level is to search and apply for the position of a hotshot firefighter. Fill out the application form, and pass the written and physical exams. Furthermore, the applicants are also required to become certified or complete a few training courses. For example, in Colorado, firefighters have to earn the “Red Card” by completing the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Basic Firefighter course (S-130) and the Introduction to Fire Behavior course (S-190). This way, one can advance their career by pursuing additional training courses.
Hotshot Firefighter Job Requirements
To become a hotshot firefighter, one needs to fulfill two basic requirements, education and physical. Most hotshots start their career working in seasonal employment or as a volunteer in Wildland firefighting to gain fire service experience and knowledge.
Educational requirements vary with the state agency. As a minimum criteria, the candidate must be at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or equivalent. The candidates can also enroll in fire science or emergency medical technician courses offered by various vocational schools and communities. Also, if one wants to further their education, one can enroll in a two-year and four-year degree program in:
- Fire Science
- Fire Ecology
- Fire Technology
- Wildland Fire Management
- Fire Leadership
Talking about the physical fitness requirement, Hotshot Firefighters have to maintain rigorous fitness standards and a healthy psyche. They must be able to endure various environmental challenges and extreme climatic conditions. To ensure that the candidate is physically fit for the profile, the NWCG requires them to pass the Work Capacity Test (WCT). The test includes the following:
- Pack test (three-mile hike while carrying 45 pounds)
- A mile and a half run in less than 10:45 or less
- 40 sit-ups in less than 60 seconds
- 25 push-ups in under 60 seconds
- Perform a minimum of four chin-ups (depending on body weight)
Hotshot Firefighter Training
Hotshot Firefighters go through a rigorous training schedule prior to the fire season or during the fire season every year. Many departmental training programs are conducted to ensure and maintain crew efficiency and safety. Every hotshot crew member is required to participate in a daily 1.5-hour training program which includes an obstacle course, free weights, and miles of trails to run and hike. The goal of the fitness training program is to shape and prepare every crew member for the future assignments.
As a part of the formal training, the hotshot crew members are also required to participate in the annual training program during each fire season. The program constitutes both classroom and field exercise. In addition to various training programs, there are multiple courses/classes offered for them related to basic fire safety rules, fire prevention techniques, and emergency medical procedures. Also, there are many advanced courses designed for the senior personnel. The following are few examples related to the field of study.
- Wildlife Management
- Wildland Fire Science
- Range Management or Conversation
- Natural Resources
- Soil Science
Hotshot Firefighter Job Description
Mentioned below are the major job description of a hotshot firefighter:
- Serve as a firefighter during wildfire suppression activities
- Serve as a crew member to other firefighters
- Conduct backfire and burnout operations
- Patrol the area to locate and eliminate hotspots
- Maintain and repair various tools and equipment such as mowers, shovels, fire engines, chainsaws, etc.
- Construct lines, dig trenches and clear the bush away from encroaching fires with the uses of shovels, axes or chainsaws.
- Educate and inform the local public regarding fire safety and prevention.
- Rescue fire victims and provide medical aid.
- Maintain a high level of physical fitness.
- Participate in drills and attend seminars, conferences, and conventions to gain knowledge regarding the latest firefighting practices.
- Inspect burned areas to locate potential threats.
- Prepare reports and documents as needed.
- Perform other tasks as the job demands.
Hotshot Firefighter Pay and Jobs
The demand for Hotshot Firefighters is on the rise during fire season. Because of the long working hours and daring assignments, these professionals earn a high pay package. As a federal worker, a Hotshot Firefighter earns an average of $13 per hour during off-season. The pay increases during the peak fire season where they work up to 16 hours, sometimes even extending up to 48-64 hours.
They earn an average salary of $40,000 during a six-month season (including overtime and hazard pay). Pay does vary based on several factors, considering your immediate employer, experience, and job location. Generally, a hotshot fire crew consists of 20 members. Each member has its own specialized role within the crew structure. To name a few, some may be certified as medic, a helicopter crewmember, a faller and saw team (consisting of one sawyer and one swamper).
Most of the jobs for the hotshot crew are found in the west of the United States. And each federal agency employing a Hotshot Firefighter has its hiring process and wage structure. Further, the hiring academy itself provides the candidate with the appropriate training or sometimes may recommend you to an outside training program.