Forest Firefighter

What is a forest firefighter? Forest firefighters move towards the source of fire to suppress it and minimize damages both to the environment, workspaces and homes, and protect potential victims such as humans and wildlife. Their role is becoming ever more important as we see an increasing number of forest fires in the summer months with periods of unbreathable air and ‘stay home’ orders.

At a Glance

Imagine that you’re flying in a helicopter above a large stretch of forest. You see smoke rising from the treetops. The helicopter circles around to give a clear view of the fire below. It then travels around the smoke and lands in an area where you can grab your gear and safely disembark.

A forest fire can injure or kill animals, threaten towns and communities, emit pollutants into the air, and alter the soil and water. It can spread quickly, and it might destroy everything in its path.

It’s your job to minimize the damage that’s caused by a blaze like this one by putting it out as quickly as possible.

You also work to prevent fires from occurring in the first place. This involves duties such as removing fallen trees, managing controlled burning, and working to educate the community about fire prevention.

Most of your work is done outdoors as part of a crew. Many forest firefighters live where they grew up, protecting forests by putting out the fires that threaten them.

You are motivated and enjoy the challenge that every day brings. You are committed to your team, dedicated to physical fitness, and feel satisfied knowing that you’re helping to protect the natural environment, people, and property.

Job Duties

What do forest firefighters do?  While job duties vary from one position to the next, forest firefighters are frequently asked to conduct the following activities:

  • Use firefighting tools such as hoses, axes, and handheld radios
  • Operate and maintain skidders and bulldozers
  • Participate in water bombing operations
  • Dig trenches, cut trees, and pump water onto burning areas
  • Patrol burned areas to watch for hot spots that could restart fires
  • Prepare firefighting reports
  • Plan, direct and execute firefighting strategies
  • Evaluate the type of fire, the extent of damage to areas
  • Participate as members of a trauma or emergency response team and provide paramedical aid to victims
  • Control and extinguish fires using equipment, such as axes, water hoses, aerial ladders and hydraulic equipment
  • Maintain firefighting equipment
  • Work under the direction of the fire suppression officer or forestry technician

Work Environment

Forest firefighters may be required to work long hours in challenging and changing conditions, including high temperatures and steep terrain. They work in all weather conditions and may also find themselves in isolated areas for prolongated periods of time. Individuals in this occupation may be exposed to hazards such as smoke, intense heat, falling trees and branches, wildlife and strong winds.

When in the line of action, forest firefighters need to be physically agile and be able to bend, stoop and crouch whilst simultaneously wearing protective gear and carrying heavy equipment, and to work quickly on steep and uneven terrain. This occupation may be physically taxing.

Forest firefighters work in a variety of locations, including:

The office/station:

  • Preparing firefighting reports
  • Maintaining and cleaning equipment and fire engines
  • Conducting and taking part in drills
  • Engaging in ongoing fitness assessments
  • Being continuously ready to go to a fire site

The field:

  • Carrying heavy equipment across rough terrain
  • Handling large- or small-scale forest fires
  • Digging trenches, cutting down trees and pumping water from nearby sources to combat burning areas
  • Rescuing victims from dangerous sites
  • Directing teams at the scene of a fire

Where to Work

Forest firefighters typically work for:

  • Federal or provincial government departments
  • Federal or provincial parks
  • Research centres
  • Private firefighter companies

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada job board.

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as a forest firefighter, you should have a strong interest in:

  • Physical Education
  • Biology
  • Math
  • English

In most cases, the minimum education needed to be a forest firefighter is a high school diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a forest firefighter, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Forestry
  • Wildlife Management
  • Fire Protection Technology

Before entering the workforce, forest firefighters are required to be trained in:

  • Chainsaw safety
  • Standard first aid
  • Transportation of dangerous goods
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems (WHMIS)
  • CPR
  • Aircraft rescue operations


Hard/Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • First aid training
  • Operation and control of equipment
  • Roof ventilation
  • Knowledge of safety procedures and techniques

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Physical agility, strength and vision
  • Courage
  • Problem solving
  • Conflict resolution
  • Teamwork/team-oriented

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Look at our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry.” or our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Your Impact

Forest firefighters perform fire prevention and suppression techniques in forests and on public land such as national parks. The work of forest firefighters includes preparing firebreaks by trimming trees, removing brush and performing controlled burns to reduce the potential for large outbreaks.

Forest firefighters also help improve awareness of the causes of forest fires. They teach people and organizations how to prevent forest fires when they’re working or recreating outside, contributing to fewer human-caused forest fires.

A variety of tactics is used to control fires. Forest firefighters may work for logging companies, contractors, or municipal and provincial governments, and federal bodies like the Canadian Air Force. Being a forest firefighter means that you provide 24/7 fire protection by working in teams, rotating shifts and responsibilities. You’ll be supported by senior staff such as the Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, and Inspectors.

As a forest firefighter, you must be prepared to respond to a call immediately; every minute wasted makes a bad situation worse.

There is no second-guessing or overthinking because you know that the end goal is to suppress fires, save lives, and minimize damage. You need to be aware of the surroundings at all times and remain composed and level-headed to help others at the scene stay calm as well.

The day-to-day of a forest firefighter varies but you must stay focused and diligent in their work. The actions you take on the job not only affect yourself, but also your team, communities, and natural and cultural resources.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as forest firefighters may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 4312Firefighters

NOC Code: 0432Fire Chiefs and Senior Firefighting Officers

NOC Code: 8422Silviculture and Forestry Workers

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

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