Structure vs. Wildland firefighter. What’s right for you?
While the differences in job roles may be evident for wildland and structure firefighters, those nuances aren't as apparent to the public. So, what's the difference between structure and wildland firefighters? The top three things to start are:
- Training and education
- Their approach to fires
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Firefighting is dangerous no matter what route you choose, their approach is different along with their strategies. While structure firefighting is year-round, wildland firefighters are temporary, seasonal positions working four to six months out of the year.
Structural firefighting performs duties related to the public service. They typically respond to:
- Fighting structure fires
- Vehicle accidents and performing extrication
- Dealing with chemical spills
- Providing emergency medical care
- Using tactics and strategies to contain and control incidents
- Continuous learning and attending training programs to stay abreast the new technologies
Wildland firefighters performs duties related to forest fires. They typically include:
- Creating fire lines- a swath of cut-down trees and dug-up grass in the path of a fire to deprive a fire of fuel
- Extinguish fires with the use of water pumps and chemicals
- Drive fire engines or parachute from planes to access remote areas, where they extinguish and control flames
- Operate chainsaws and start controlled fires to remove trees and branches to prevent wildfires from starting or growing
- Using maps, compasses and geospatial positioning devices to find waypoints and maintain a sense of direction
- Rescuing hikers and other civilians, providing medical assistance and helping them get to safety
- Working on crews with several other firefighters, using teamwork skills to combat fires effectively
- Protect forests, wetlands, wildlife, homes, and communities
- Schedule prescribed fire to burn potential fire fuel under controlled conditions
- Wildfire suppressions, and fire preparedness.
THE DIFFERENCE IN TRAINING AND PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
Firefighters train extensively in different techniques necessary to extinguish hazardous fires. Each crew has to wear different PPE for different tactics for each job. The safety gear that is worn includes not only protective clothing but also specialized breathing and rescue equipment. According to The Times News' report on the weight of firefighter gear, the average weight of a structural firefighter's protective equipment is between 66 to 70 pounds. In contrast, the average weight of a wildland pack is about 25-40 pounds.
So, what do they wear as PPE?
STRUCTURAL FIREFIGHTERS PPE 66-70 lbs
WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS PPE 25-45 lbs
Pants with boots
Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
First aid kit
GPS and compass
LITTLE FIRES, BIG FIRES
Structural firefighters operate and maintain a variety of fire apparatus in different settings, and it involves a lot of training. Prospective firefighters must complete a series of interviews and obtain an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. Structural firefighters remain on call at fire stations, where they sleep, eat, and perform various other duties during their shifts. When they are not on active duty, they inspect the equipment, conduct practice drills, and attend training programs to stay abreast of the new technologies.
When it comes to an escape plan, a building fire allows for more options than a wildfire. A firefighter can break out of a window or kick down a door to make a hasty escape to safety. Firefighters are trained on ladder escapes, untenable conditions, and emergency firefighters bail out during extreme conditions.
Wildland firefighters are specially trained firefighters with limited escape options. Fire behavior is different when it comes to structural and wildland fires. A fire consuming a building is contained, and firefighters are likely to tackle the source of the fire compared to a wildland fire, which can dramatically change due to wind, landscape, and fire fuel. “Wildland fire suppression largely attempts to keep a fire from spreading beyond its current location.” Wildland fire can change directions at any point, increasing the risk of fatality.
To become a wildland firefighter, you must have some post-secondary education, primarily work outdoors in rugged terrain, obtain a Red Card (an agency-issued document that certifies an individual has the training to perform on a wildland or prescribed fire), pass physical and written tests while proving the ability to withstand strenuous physical activity.
There are several career avenues for wildland firefighters which include:
- Hand crew
- Engine crew
- Fuel crews
- Hotshot crews
- Helitack crews
- and wildland fire modules.
To learn more about each career path, read more at Different Types of Wildland Firefighters.
No matter what route you choose, safety will be at the center of your career. Municipalities require several hundred hours of post-hiring training at a fire academy, and training typically takes up to 14 months or so to complete 600 hours of training. Training is focused on thinking clearly, and skillfully to survive a real-life situation. A safety mindset is essential so that "everyone goes home" at the end of each day.
To the women and men risking their lives fighting either urban or wildland fires, we salute you.
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?
Get inspired to become a Wildland firefighter:
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