The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing nearly 1/8th of America's total land. That's a heady order for sure. Nearly 247 million acres fall under its jurisdiction, and it is the mission of the BLM to:
"[S]ustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations."
Created in 1946 by President Harry Truman, the organization oversees some of the most remote and wild land in the western United States. Though some snarky commentators have joked that it oversees "land nobody wanted" because it was passed over originally by homesteaders. However, that ignores the fact that within the agencie's nearly 250 million acres lies 221 wilderness areas, 27 national monuments and 636 other protected areas. Not too mention nearly 2,400 miles of wild and scenic rivers. There's definitely some beauty to be found on BLM land. There's also money to be made as well. There are over 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM land too.
Needless to say, with so much commercial and historical importance situated on its lands, the BLM has an active wildland fire management program. And they keep busy. See below for how the BLM compares to other federal agencies.
By the Numbers
|Heavy Equipment - Dozers, Tractor Plow Units, Tenders||50*|
|* indicates this an estimate|
Per the BLM's website:
BLM’s Fire and Aviation program has three organizational levels:
1) The national office provides leadership and oversight and develops policy, procedures and budgets for the fire and aviation program;
2) BLM state offices are responsible for coordinating policies and interagency activities within their state; and
3) Field offices are responsible for on-the-ground fire management and aviation activities, often partnering with other agencies to conduct efficient wildland fire suppression operations.
This information was gathered from a FAQ about Federal Land Sales on the BLM website.
Dark Orange = Strong BLM presence | Light Orange = Some BLM presence | White = No BLM presence
What do you see?
- The BLM does most of its business west of the Mississippi River.
- If you want to work for the BLM on a fire crew in the Northeast...that's not going to happen.
- BLM's footprint is minimal in south / southeast as well.
- Sadly, the BLM has no operations in Hawaii...you'll have to look to the National Park Service instead!
The BLM offers some great opportunities for a candidate to start their fire career. Particularly for Veterans! The BLM has been a leader among its federal peers in actively recruiting military veterans. To date, there are eight BLM veteran wildland fire crews. Additionally, in November 2018, the Lakeview Hotshots of Klamath Falls, Oregon, were certified as the first all-veteran hotshot crew. What also makes this veteran crew unique is that they have 4 drone pilots. During the 2018 fire season, they flew over 100 missions on various fires, doing tasks like mapping firelines and catching spot fires. So joining one of these eight BLM crews is a great way to start your career in fire.
Type 2 Crews
There are two variations of a Type 2 Hand Crew. A Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) Crew, and a standard Type 2 Hand Crew. Each crew will have between 18-20 members per NWCG guidelines. Some Type 2 crews are operational and active throughout the year. Others are organized as needed.
I started my career on a Type 2 Hand Crew, and I highly recommend it as a starting point for anyone interested in pursing a career in fire. What's the difference between the two crews? It comes down to fire experience. A Type 2 IA crew is required to have 60% or more of the crew with at least 1 year of fire experience. Whereas a non-IA Type 2 crew only requires 20% of its crew members to have 1 year of fire experience. So, there are 14 rookie spots available on an 18-person Type 2 hand crew. 16 spots available on a 20-person crew. However, those #'s decline fairly dramatically if you're looking at a Type 2 IA crew. Given the 60% requirement, there are 7 spots available on a 18-person IA crew, and 8 spots available on a 20-person IA crew.
The BLM has 10 hotshot crews. In order to remain compliant with NWCG standards, 80% of the crew must have at least 1 year of fire experience. Which means that each year, each crew can hire, at most, 4 rookies. So there are technically 40 rookie spots available across the 10 BLM hotshot crews each year.
With approximately 300 engines in the BLM's fleet, this presents the best area for an entry-level firefighter to break in. Now, it's a bit tough to determine precisely how many people are employed year over year on these engines because, depending on the type of engine, staffing levels might vary. For instance, a Type 3 Engine (the largest wildland fire engine) might have 5-7 firefighters assigned to it, while a smaller rig, like a Type 6 engine, might only have 4 or 5 firefighters assigned to it. Also included in this might be patrol rigs or prevention rigs, which might only be staffed by 1 or 2 firefighters. That being said, 1,200 is our best estimation based on the information available to us. Assuming that each engine could hire 1 - 2 rookies per year, you're looking at somewhere between 300 and 600 entry-level opportunities.
Wildland Fire Modules
Of the 48 active wildland fire modules, only 1 of those modules is BLM. The Unaweep Wildland Fire Module is based in Grand Junction, Colorado. Every season, they will have between 7-10 crew members. Depending on the year, between 4-7 of those roles could be designated for entry-level crew member. And while there is not a specific requirement that crew members have previous fire experience, per NWCG guidelines on WFMs, it would be fair to assume that Unaweep would limit their hiring of rookies to 1 or 2 per crew per season.
No entry-level positions are available on a helitack crew. All helitack crews require at least one year of fire experience.