How To Get a Job on a Type 1 Hotshot Crew
The Inside Scoop on What It Takes to Get Hired
Tip #1: Master the Internet Application
Whether you want to work for the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Land Management, you’re going to need to submit your application online. Paper applications are a thing of the past. Naturally, their respective websites are hardly pillars of web design excellence, so prepare to be frustrated while you first learn how to navigate the sites. Once you start putting in applications, it’s imperative that you proofread, and double-check all of your submissions. A simple omission, or a failure to note something as trivial as having a high school diploma / GED could disqualify you for a position. Remember – if it’s not in your application, it doesn’t exist. Here are links to the career sites of the five major federal agencies that hire wildland firefighters:
- US FOREST SERVICE (USFS)
- BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (BLM)
- NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (NPS)
- US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE (USFWS)
- BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
Also, WilfdfireX.com is a great resource to check out. It aggregates hiring information and job postings from a host of federal, state, and private sector employers.
Every crew is different, but most crews will begin posting job advertisements online sometime in January or February. Check out the sites regularly, and don’t hesitate to call the crew that you’re interested in and ask when they plan to post, how many new positions they expect to hire for, what specific announcement they’ll be posting under, and what Grade levels (GS-3, GS-4, GS-5, etc). The earlier you establish contact with a crew, the better.
If you’ve never fought fire before, you’ll most likely start at the GS-3 level. However, if you’ve had previous jobs where you’ve used pulaskis, chainsaws, and axes frequently (e.g. trail crew experience, landscaping, etc) you might be able to qualify for a GS-4 rating. Also, a college degree (especially in fire science, ecology, biology, or environmental sciences) might allow you to qualify for the GS-4 pay grade without previous fire experience. The difference is usually only a dollar or two, but hotshots make their money in overtime hours and hazard pay. Quick math: if you make $10.00/hr and get 600 hours of overtime (average) in a season, you’ll make $15.00/hr x 600hrs = $9,000 in overtime pay. Plus, assuming all 600 hours of overtime was accrued on fire assignments and qualified for hazard pay (very unlikely) you would earn an additional $2.50/hr x 600/hrs = $1,500. Now let’s say you were making $11.00/hr.
Overtime Pay = $16.50/hr x 600/hrs = $9,900.
Hazard Pay = $2.75/hr x 600/hrs = $1,650.
It might not seem like a lot at first, but an extra dollar per hour adds $1,050 to your paycheck just in overtime & hazard pay..
Tip #2: Introduce Yourself
Like anything else in life, the person who makes the extra effort will be rewarded. Hotshot Superintendents and Captains spend their off-season wading through hundreds of anonymous online applications. If you want to stand out from the rest of the crowd, there’s three options:
The “Good Option” – Pickup the Phone. Sometime during the off-season, ideally before the Christmas season, take the time to introduce yourself to your future crew. You can find contact information for every single Interagency Hotshot Crew in the US on this site. Also, Hotshot Fitness has taken the time to compile a list of every hotshot crews’ website and social media page.
The “Better Option” – Shake a Hand. If you live within 50 miles of a duty station – stop by in person.. Ask about what positions might be opening up, what they expect from their rookies, and what their crew values are. Are they a running crew or a hiking crew? Do they need an EMT? Will they be light on sawyers? This will not only improve your chances of getting hired, but also help you decide if the crew is a right fit for you.
“The Best Option” – Take a hike. Or a run. This cannot be stressed enough: Hotshots prize physical fitness. There’s a saying that if you can’t run or hike with the crew, you don’t deserve to be on the crew. Ask if you can go on an off-season training run or hike with a Squad boss / Captain / or the Superintendent. This demonstrates a number of things: a commitment to the crew, a strong work ethic, a take-charge personality, and (hopefully) shows off your level of physical fitness.
Tip #3: Get a skill
Ask yourself “What can I do to differentiate myself from all the other job candidates?” Truth be told, a hotshot crew’s overhead reviews hundreds of job applications. You need to standout. The best way to do that is by adding a valuable skill set to your resume. Hotshot crews can never have too many crew members with medical training, so consider getting your EMT certification, a wilderness EMT or wilderness first aid / first responder. Your local red cross should offer these classes, or your local community college. You might not be the designated EMT for the crew, but you’ll stand a better chance of getting hired. When you have twenty guys hiking around in the woods, playing with chainsaws, swinging axes and fighting fire…it’s comforting to know there’s some medical personnel close by!
Tip #4: Take a class
Consider taking S-130/190 before the start of the season. Especially out west, many fire departments or community colleges will offer it. Definitely worth looking into. Or any Fire Science classes in general.
Tip #5: Get Fire Experience
In order to abide by IHC guidelines, 80% of the crew members on a hotshot crew must have previous wildland fire experience. Which makes getting placed on a hotshot crew as a rookie firefighter incredibly tough. So where can you get that prized experience? Your best bet is on Type II hand crew. They’re structured much like a hotshot crew, but are not considered a national resource, and thus don’t go off-forest on assignments as much. Still, a Type II crew is a great way to start your fire career, and you’ll see plenty of fire as a crew member on one. It’s crucial to stand-out physically on a Type II crew if you aspire to be a hotshot. That’ll be one of the first questions your Type II crew Superintendent will be asked by a Hotshot Superintendent.
Another option, though less preferable to working on a Type II crew, is working on an engine crew. This isn’t a dig on engine crews, those guys have a specialty and work just as hard as anyone else, but if you’re gunning for a spot on ‘shot crew, you need to spend some time in the trenches. Working on an engine crew is a less preferable option because you won’t gain as much line cutting experience, but you will become quite proficient in progressive hoselays! Hotshot crews prefer to recruit from hand crews because they know they’re capable of hunching over and hacking out line for hours on end. Nevertheless, many, many hotshots get their start on engine crews. At the end of the day, what’s most important is fire experience. Period.
Other options include Fuels and Trails crews, as well as private contractors such as Firestorm in California. Private contractors are growing both in numbers, and quality, and many outfits are sending out highly-qualified and well-trained crews to aid federal firefighters on the fireline. Check the jobs page for hiring opportunities with private contractors in your area.
Whatever route you choose, work hard, earn the respect of your supervisors, get a fire season or two under your belt, and keep your eye on the prize – a spot on a hotshot crew.