A QUICK BACK STORY
I personally think it is super important to follow that typical saying, “If you enjoy what you do for work, you don’t work a day in your life.” I wanted to make sure I lived that way. After around four years of working for Apple, I decided it was time for a change. I went back to school and got a degree in Fire Science and knocked out my Emergency Medical Technician course. While in that process I was introduced to a documentary titled ‘Fire Wars’ which took me through what wildland firefighters did and I immediately knew I wanted to go that route rather than municipal fire. Now it was time for the dreaded application process.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
You should have an idea of where you would like to work and who you would like to work for. You can be a wildland firefighter for a few different agencies and they can be federal or state agencies. Some of those are the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and even the specific states agency. Once you figure that part out, you should go into the application process with an idea of what type of module you would like to be on. The easiest position to get as a beginner would be an engine module. But don’t worry. If this is not what you are looking for, you can shoot for a hand crew, helicopter, or any other position in the fire service.
If you do slim down your options to where and what you’d like to do … then it’s time to start talking to your future management and let them know who you are and that you are interested. This part can be tough because it sometimes feels like you are bugging the people you’d like to work for. You have to keep in mind how many people are applying for these positions and you need to stand out from the potentially hundreds of applicants applying for the same position of your dreams. Most modules won’t even interview or call the folks that don’t get in touch. I even recommend visiting the station, so they can see your face. If they can put your face to your name, they’ll see that you are motivated enough to make the trip. Beware though, they might ask you to work out with them. Go in prepared for a run or hike.
Okay, this is the most important part. You can be the most physically fit, and be in the best shape of your life, and be the totally perfect candidate for the spot of your dreams … but if you make a mistake on your application, you will not be hired. So if you are interested at all, go make an account on USAJobs.gov right after you finish reading this. Create your profile and fill out as much as you can. You will have an option to upload a resume and cover letter or create one through the website. I do both. Have all your claimed certifications ready to upload and read the outreach letter closely. There are specific requirements and directions per position and you have to follow these closely to be considered. The positions can be found by searching job titles or locations but ultimately you want the “announcement number.” These are different every season and vary depending on the type of module and agency you are applying for. The agency or unit you are interested in can supply these to you and usually are on their websites or believe it or not, their social channels. If you want it, reach out.
THE WAITING GAME
Once your application is in, now you have to wait. Feel free to follow up with the process but prepare to not get much information on it. The module you apply for is often waiting for information from the higher-ups. But do it anyway. Keep bugging them, but in a respectful manner. They want to know who is interested and you’ll stand out by following up consistently. After your application has been submitted you may go back and edit it, but once that deadline date has passed, don’t touch it! Really, you just want to edit it if you are adding something that will better your chances. You can view your application status on the USAJobs website and it is pretty accurate on the steps your application is taking. The first thing you really want to see is that email that states you are being considered for the position. This usually means you made it into the pool of candidates. This also means your application worked! From here, things can vary depending on where and what you applied for. Sometimes it’s extremely automated and sometimes the module will have their own process for slimming down the candidates. I have filled out questionnaires, I have done phone interviews, and I have gone and worked out at the station. Just know that the application can be picky and you should take your time with it and be sure it is done accurately. Just be flexible and timely with this stuff. Stay organized and know a little bit about where you are applying.
Did I mention how difficult it is to get into a federal position? There are hundreds of applicants for that dream location of yours. It may not happen on your first try. Don’t worry, it didn’t for me either. Don’t let that stop you. There are private companies that get contracted out to help out on fires and this looks great on your resume if you don’t have any fire experience. I spent my first summer in Oregon living out of my tent as an on-call firefighter. Oregon definitely has the most of these but they are located all over the Western United States. Plus, it was an experience I will never forget.
GREGG’S LAST FEW REMINDERS
- Start this process now, announcement numbers are slowly trickling out.
- Don’t wait to long to start getting in shape. I will be getting back into it at the end of this month.
- Apply to a fair amount of locations, but don’t apply to them all. Only apply to locations where you are actually willing to live. Then learn a little about your desired locations.
- Don’t get discouraged, this is a competitive process. I didn’t get a federal position on my first attempt.
About Gregg Boydston
Gregg is a Hotshot Firefighter for the US Forest Service. Born and raised in Southern California, his eagerness to be in the mountains brought him to Mammoth Lakes where he can step out of his house and explore the Eastern Sierra. When he is not fighting wildfires, he’s traveling and camping with the best of them, or out and about adventuring with a camera, cooler, and a positive attitude.