When it comes to fighting forest fires, the handcrews can be compared to the army’s infantry. The handcrew is made up of between 18 and 20 firefighters. Their main duty is to put a fireline in place.
A fireline is a portion of land that has been cleared off of anything that is flammable so that the advancing fire doesn’t have a source of fuel to keep growing. To eliminate the fuel for the fire, the handcrew must dig down to the soil. This is physically demanding work and the crew members put in long hours.
The handcrew’s day starts at dawn. They break camp and then go to the location of the fire. One person on the crew acts as a lookout, since the crew must always have an idea of where the fire is located and the direction it is moving in.
Once the handcrew is in place, they use various hand tools, including chainsaws, shovels, and Pulaskis (a double-bladed tool with an axe head on one side and an arched blade on the other). Each member of the crew carries a backpack, which may weigh 25 lbs. or more, and they may need to hike for a number of miles before reaching the location where the fireline will be constructed. The work day may last for 12 hours or more.
To be considered for a job on a handcrew, applicants must be United States citizens. They must also have at least 90 days of prior experience fighting forest fires and pass a physical exam prior to being hired.
Passing a Work Capacity Test is another requirement for people who are interested in working on a handcrew. This Test involves completing a three-mile hike in 45 minutes or less, while wearing a 45-lb. backpack.
To apply for a job on a handcrew, visit the Federal Government Jobs website. The salary range for this position is $23,400 and $34,000 per year.