In the United States, wildfires are prevalent in the western states, particularly in the end of summer and early fall, when the hot, dry desert winds fan flames that run fast and furiously through forests, over mountains, valleys and anything in its path — including homes and towns.
Wildfires are a threat in other countries, as well, including Canada and Australia, to name a few.
Wildfire suppression is a range of firefighting tactics used to suppress wildfires. Firefighting efforts in wildland areas require different techniques, equipment, and training from the structure fires found in populated areas. Working in conjunction with specially designed aerial firefighting aircraft, these wildfire-trained crews suppress flames, construct fire lines, and extinguish flames and areas of heat to protect resources and natural wilderness. Wildfire suppression also addresses the issues of the wildland-urban interface, where populated areas border with wild land areas.
Do you have what it takes to be a wildland firefighter?
The answer is you can — if you meet certain criteria. In the United States, both federal and state agencies have varying requirements to award what is referred to as a Wildfire Qualification Card. Like a driver’s license, this card says you’re certified to fight wildland fires. So how do you get one? Aside from hours of online testing, you’ll have to enroll in a week long fire training-type boot camp where you’ll take more tests and be given a large spiral bound book called the Fireland Handbook.
In addition to the heavy knowledge component the firefighter trainee has to meet certain physical requirements. One of these is clearing a fireline using specialized tools, some of which weigh in excess of 20 lbs. For those of you who don’t know what a fireline is, it’s where firefighters clear a long path and remove all burnable vegetation, sometimes miles in length, along the approaching front of a fire. As back-breaking as it is, digging a fireline is the best and most efficient way to control a fire. It’s also dangerous business. A blaze can jump these lines when the fire is extreme and hot embers are picked up by winds and create spot fires outside the fireline.
After building your fireline, you’ll learn how to light controlled fires. As well as how to put them out, using something called a drip torch. A drip torch looks like a watering bucket but the liquid is, well, on fire. As you “drip it” globs of flaming stuff fall from the spout to start fires — which you quickly learn how to properly put out!
And those who like a pleasant jog, you’ll get to experience setting up fire hose lines that can stretch for more than a thousand feet. And, what is unraveled must be rolled back up. So, learning how to correctly roll up hundreds of feet of thick and cumbersome fire hose is a challenge all on its own.
Then there’s the pack test. You’re loaded up with a 45 pound backpack and then sent on a three mile hike, which you need to complete in less than 45 minutes.
Now that all the physical stuff is out of the way, you get to study more firefighting research and take more tests which ultimately culminate in your final exam. If you complete your final, you’re awarded your certificate and face the final challenge — being assigned to a fire. This is, perhaps, the most difficult challenge the newly minted wildland firefighter faces. There’s only a few months’ window (from June to September) when fires are burning in such large numbers that a newly trained firefighter can get out on a fire, but don’t give up. If you stick with it, you’ll get that chance to fight one of nature’s most deadly and destructive forces — wildland fires.