Be Your Own Guidance Counselor

PMS 310–1: Your pathway to getting qualified.

I had a very bad high school guidance counselor. It wasn’t that she gave me bad advice, it was that she didn’t give me any advice at all. At that point in an educational career timing is crucial and opportunities that you aren’t even aware you have dissolve with every uninformed decision you make or don’t make. I had a similar experience when I began working for Forestry, although in that case I was given wrong advice and missed taking a very an important class which was a prerequisite for all the qualifications on the path ahead of me. The class was only provided every other year so it meant that I would have to wait 2 years before I could get into the class which meant I would be behind my peers in qualifications by 2 years! I don’t want this to happen to you, and to help prevent that I am going to give you a piece of good advice: be your own guidance counselor.

Whether you are interested in a career in wildland fire or you just want to use it to put yourself through grad school, every job on a the fire requires a qualification, and each qualification has specific prerequisites and requirements which are spelled out very clearly in the PMS 310–1: Wildland Qualification Systems Guide.

For instance, lets say you want to be a Fire Behavior Analyst(FBAN). You would go to the PLANS sections of the 310–1, because FBAN is under PLANS and here is what you would find:

Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN)
(Position Category: Wildland Fire)
REQUIRED TRAINING
Advanced Fire Behavior Interpretation (S-590)
Advanced Wildland Fire Behavior Calculations (S-490)
Annual Fireline Safety Refresher (RT-130)
REQUIRED EXPERIENCE
Satisfactory performance as a Division/Group Supervisor (DIVS)
+
Successful position performance as a Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN) on a wildland fire incident
PHYSICAL FITNESS LEVEL
Moderate
OTHER POSITION ASSIGNMENTS THAT WILL MAINTAIN CURRENCY
None
OTHER TRAINING WHICH SUPPORTS DEVELOPMENT OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Intermediate National Fire Danger Rating System (S-491)

So the first section lists required classes, in this case S-590 and S-490. It is not stated but it is implied that you must meet the prerequisites for those classes which are S-190 which you take to get your redcard, S-290 which you take to become a single resource boss such as a crewboss, and S-390 to become a Division Supervisor. And of course everyone must take the Fireline Safety Refresher.

The next section lists Required Experience. As you can you see to be an FBAN you must first be qualified as a DIVS. So what are the requirements for DIVS? To find that out we need to go to the OPERATIONS section:

Division/Group Supervisor (DIVS)
(Position Category: ICS)
REQUIRED TRAINING
Annual Fireline Safety Refresher (RT-130)
Division/Group Supervisor (S-339)
Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior Calculations (S-390)
REQUIRED EXPERIENCE
Satisfactory performance as a Task Force Leader (TFLD)
+
Completion and Certification of PTB as a Division/Group Supervisor (DIVS) on a wildfire incident
OR
Satisfactory performance as an Incident Commander Type 3 (ICT3)
+
Completion and Certification of PTB as a Division/Group Supervisor (DIVS) on a wildfire incident
OR
Satisfactory performance as an Incident Commander Type 4 (ICT4)
+
Satisfactory performance in any two Strike Team Leader positions (one must be STCR or STEN)
+
Completion and Certification of PTB as a Division/Group Supervisor (DIVS) on a wildfire incident
PHYSICAL FITNESS LEVEL
Arduous
THESE POSITIONS MAINTAIN CURRENCY FOR DIVS
Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS)
Incident Commander Type 3 (ICT3)
Operations Branch Director (OPBD)
Operations Section Chief Type 1 (OSC1)
Operations Section Chief Type 2 (OSC2)
Operations Section Chief Type 3, Wildland Fire (OPS3) Safety Officer Type 1 (SOF1)
Safety Officer Type 2 (SOF2)
Any Strike Team Leader (STCR, STEQ, STEN) Structure Protection Specialist (STPS)
Task Force Leader (TFLD)
DIVS MAINTAINS CURRENCY FOR THESE POSITIONS
Firefighter Type 1 (FFT1)
Firefighter Type 2 (FFT2)
Incident Commander Type 3 (ICT3)
Incident Commander Type 4 (ICT4)
Operations Branch Director (OPBD)
Operations Section Chief Type 2 (OSC2)
Operations Section Chief Type 3, Wildland Fire (OPS3)
Safety Officer Type 2 (SOF2)
Any Single Resource Boss (ENGB, FELB, FIRB, HEQB, CRWB, except HMGB)
Strategic Operational Planner (SOPL)
Any Strike Team Leader (STCR, STEQ, STEN)
Structure Protection Specialist (STPS)
Task Force Leader (TFLD)
OTHER TRAINING WHICH SUPPORTS DEVELOPMENT OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Incident Leadership (L-381)

So again we look at required training. We already mentioned S-390 and it looks like we have to take the Division/Group Supervisor class, S-339. As for required experience we have a number of options: we need to be a qualified TFLD, or we need to be a qualified ICT3, or we need to be a qualified ICT4 and qualified in two strike team leader positions(dozers, engines, or crews). Now if we wanted to continue down the rabbit hole we could go find out what the requirements for each of those positions are and most likely there would be many more classes we would have to take to get to those positions. Obviously FBAN is a pretty advanced position on a fire and requires a lot of experience and training to reach. In fact it takes about 10 years to reach the FBAN level.

But not every position on a fire requires so much training and experience. There are some very interesting positions that require almost no fire experience or fire classes. For example, lets take a look at GISS, the folks that make the cool fire maps:

Geographic Information System Specialist (GISS)
(Position Category: Incident Support)
REQUIRED TRAINING
Introduction to ICS (ICS-100) NIMS: An Introduction (IS-700)
REQUIRED EXPERIENCE
Completion and Certification of PTB as a Geographic Information System Specialist (GISS)
PHYSICAL FITNESS
None required
THESE POSITIONS MAINTAIN CURRENCY FOR GISS
None
GISS MAINTAINS CURRENCY FOR THESE POSITIONS
None
OTHER TRAINING WHICH SUPPORTS DEVELOPMENT OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Basic Wildland Fire Orientation (S-110)
Display Processor (S-245)
Geographic Information System (GIS) Specialist for Incident Management (S-341)

As you can see the only training they are required to take is Introduction to ICS(ICS-100) and Introduction to NIMS(IS-700). They are not even required to take the full redcard course! And as for experience: none. They are only required to complete the position task book. The bottom section lists classes that are recommended and would help them do a better job, but they are not required. There is also no physical fitness requirement. We saw the DIVS needed arduous and that FBAN was moderate but GISS stays in fire camp so fitness isn’t an issue. All that is required is that they have sufficient GIS skills, which of course take time to learn but can be done through self-study on the internet and many colleges offer Global Information Systems programs. Every large fire needs one or multiple GISS.

There are about 120 different fire positions listed in the latest 310–1 covering all of the ICS functions: Command, Operations, Plans, Logistics, and Finance. Operations is the route that most people take getting into fire fighting, but it is not always the easiest nor quickest way to advance.

I can’t encourage you enough to take charge of your future in fire and familiarize yourself with the 310–1. You may just find an experience that you didn’t even image exists.