Urban vs. Forest Firefighter: What's the Difference in Jobs?

When it comes to firefighting, there are two main factions of jobs to choose from. The stereotypical firefighter you think of with a pole slide and Dalmatian is an urban career, but many don’t also consider forest firefighters when thinking about this position. One key difference between urban and forest or wildland firefighters is the location, but it definitely isn’t the only difference. Each position comes with separate and specific duties, challenges, and rewards.

Urban Firefighting
An urban firefighter is what usually comes to the minds of the people when firefighters are mentioned, if only because they work where the people are. They offer aid to victims of dangerous situations, be those situations fire, emergency medical calls, search and rescue, or more. They must know the layout of the city, including not only the streets and buildings but water supply lines as well. 
Urban firefighters must be trained in first aid, and must be able to make decisions in critical, life-altering situations very quickly. They must be available day and night for the safety of the people, and usually live together for most of the week. Minimum requirements include a high school diploma or GED, being eighteen years of age, and an Emergency Medical Technician Certification. Paramedic certification is ideal for this position and many get safety degrees online or other preparedness education to be sure they are trained for many different scenarios.

Forest Firefighting
Forest or Wildland firefighters have quite a different job. Though the physical requirements (hearing, physical ability, communication) are the same, their focus is on fighting natural fires, sometimes hundreds of miles away from any people. They protect natural resources, ecosystems, and nearby homes and cities. Unlike urban firefighters, there are times when forest firefighters are required to set the fire themselves and then put it out. Backfire or burnout operations are the process of setting a controlled fire in the path of an uncontrolled fire to deprive the uncontrolled fire of the fuel it needs to spread. They must analyze topographical locations and weather information, calculating where fires are most common. These men and women fight fires on a much larger scale than urban fires and have to know a lot about the natural area. This job usually requires at least an associate's degree in fire science, if not a bachelor’s in forestry, natural resources, or biology. Requirements vary from state to state, and in federal employment. There is much less emphasis on first aid certifications here but is still a good thing to have. Forest rangers often take the responsibility of search and rescue missions for lost hikers or other special circumstances, though it is not unheard of for all employees in the area to work together regardless of their specific jobs.

Each of these specific firefighters does difficult work and are necessary to sustain urban and rural life. Whether it be saving the lives of people, animals, or natural resources, we should be grateful for the service of these brave men and women.

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