Those of us who recruit, train, and work as firefighters know that the job is anything but glamorous. Wildland fire-fighting is one of the most physically demanding jobs you can undertake. It requires strength, agility, coordination, and stamina in order to cope with the sustained exertion that comes with working in high stress environments for up to three weeks at a time. Wildland fire crews live together, eat together, and sleep together in close, crowded conditions, and we must work as a single, compatible unit. Those considering applying to Gannett Glacier Fire Crew must be in peak mental and physical condition. A crew is only as good as it’s weakest member, and the competitive pressure to succeed comes from both your supervisors and your peers. The emotional strain can be extreme.
Crew members must be able to take orders and carry out those orders hour after hour, day after day. When not on fire duty, you will be required to engage in daily structured physical fitness training that consists of running three to five miles, coordination exercises, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, stretching, etc. At the station we have a number of work projects, which include, but are not limited to, digging weeds, picking up garbage, cleaning toilets, sharpening tools, piling brush, thinning trees for fire mitigation, and conducting local prescribed burns. Moreover, you must be ready at all times to answer fire calls for the area, throughout Alaska, and in the lower 48. This requires you to be on a 24 hour alert, ready to leave for a fire less than two hours after receiving a call.
On the fire line, hand crews are singled out for the most hazardous and difficult assignments. It is normal for fire crews to be on shifts of up to 16 hours every day for weeks at a time. You will be “spiked” out away from the main fire camp; you will be thirsty, hungry, and you will sleep on rocky ground. You won’t have the luxury of washing your hands, let alone find the time or facilities to bathe. You will be filthy, exhausted, underfed, and hurting. There will be no privacy, no sanitation, no shelter, and while EMT’s are available, you will be several hours by helicopter from the nearest medical facility.
Fire crews need tough, knowledgeable, rugged individuals who can be sent ahead of the main contingent of ordinary labor crews, who can independently construct and hold lines around critical segments of the fire. Our crew often succeeds with little or no support. You will walk long distances, packing heavy loads up and down extreme, mountainous terrain. Fire crews operate chainsaws in close proximity to active fire, cutting trees and dragging limbs and brush out of the fire’s path. We dig fire lines (3 feet to 10 feet wide)to mineral soil, build trenches, haul hose, pack heavy portable pumps and tanks, conduct burn out operations and extinguish spot fires that jump our lines.
Our jobs don’t end when a fire is contained. Then, mop-up begins– digging and scraping all hot spots out and extinguishing the heat source. We breathe smoke for days, and we battle mosquitoes, gnats, flies, stump beetles, spiders, rolling rocks, falling debris, and thorns. The work is dirty, dusty, and hot. Sometimes you will worry about heat exhaustion, and other days you’ll worry about hypothermia. Your feet will blister, your hips will chafe, and through it all, you must remain alert and strong.
Firefighters travel all over the United States and even Canada, often seeing home only a few days a summer. For that reason, we want the toughest and the best. Being a firefighter can be exciting, but very challenging. Many people try out for the crew and don’t make it. This is not the time or place to get in shape, you must be in outstanding shape and mentally tough before you start work. Yet those who dedicate themselves to this job will find that wildland firefighting is one of the most rewarding careers they can undertake. You will make friends that last a lifetime and you will experience first hand the satisfaction of knowing that your efforts help save resources, homes, and lives.