Want to fight wildfires? Colorado recruitment for next season is already starting
This year was a wild fire season across the West, marked by swift-moving blazes that imperiled and in some cases scorched towns and cities.
Without permanent snow on the ground, fire season isn’t quite over yet, but officials are already thinking about 2018. They will be hosting a string of firefighter recruitment events this month to gin up interest ahead of application time early next year.
“In January the snow is getting pretty good on the slopes and a lot of people aren’t thinking about fighting wildland fires, but if you call us up in May it’s going to be too late,” said Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd.
The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, a partnership between the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, will be holding recruitment sessions in Eagle, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction this month and in January.
The UCR coordinates firefighting on 5.8 million acres of land along Interstate 70 and the Colorado River stretching from Summit County to the Utah state line. Each year, it takes on around 30 seasonal workers in both firefighting and support roles.
Seasonal positions typically run from May 15 to Sept. 1, but that can be subject to workload and funding.
A variety of firefighters will be on hand during the sessions to answer questions and familiarize people with the federal hiring process, which Boyd said can be intimidating for first-timers.
Across its whole jurisdiction, the UCR will be hiring wildland firefighters, engine crews, helitack teams and dispatchers. The agency’s Silverthorne station will be filling engine crew positions, which Boyd said can be a good entry point for eventually getting onto a national hotshot hand crew or into year-round firefighting jobs.
UCR seasonal firefighters typically carry out initial response on small fires, but depending on what’s happening at the national level, they may be called to fires across the country.
“We have several hundred fires on the UCR each year, but most people don’t hear about them because these crews get them put out quickly,” Boyd explained. “These are mostly small, initial attack fire suppression crews, but they can get called to bigger fires”
The base pay is $10.89-13.68 an hour, but that doesn’t account for overtime or hazard pay, both of which are common for firefighters.
“When you look at that hourly rate you’ve really got to factor in the potential for all of the overtime and hazard pay you’ll get if you’re put on the fire line,” Boyd said.
Under normal conditions, seasonal firefighters can expect to work a roughly 40-hour week, although Boyd noted that most crews try to work as many hours as they can. When fire activity really blows up, they get plenty of them.
“When things are busy they can get up to 16-hour days, and a fire assignment could be 14 days straight and then a couple of days off,” Boyd said.
Firefighters must pass a fitness test on their first day of the job, which entails walking 3 miles in 45 minutes or less while wearing a 45-pound pack. The UCR also asks that prospective firefighters start working out at least six weeks prior to starting the job.
Other than that, Boyd says, the main qualifications are working well on a team and understanding how to follow the chain of command.
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