What its like to be a woman in wildland firefighting, adventurous recruits needed

24 March 2017

published by www.stgeorgeutah.com

USA —  Are you an adventurous woman looking for a new career? Then you might want to consider this opportunity: Dixie National Forest is recruiting women to fight wildfires, a calling one woman describes as having made her stronger mentally and physically, more confident and comfortable in all sorts of environments – and it even helped her get through college.

The “Women in Wildland Fire” program is a collaborative effort by the Dixie, Fishlake, Manti-La Sal, and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache national forests to recruit and train more women.

“Opportunities abound in natural resource management, particularly in wildland fire, whether as a career or summer job while getting through school,” Megan Salyors said. Salyors is a Forest Service fire prevention technician and former member of a Hotshot crew.

“My personal experiences in the field have influenced me in ways that extend beyond fighting fires.”

Salyors is leading the effort to get more women into wildland firefighting and feels that women can benefit greatly from the experience.

“I am stronger both mentally and physically. I am comfortable in ever-changing environments. I communicate better,” she said. “My confidence has grown and my leadership capabilities have excelled.”

“I feel others could benefit the same way even if they don’t choose to pursue wildland fire management as a career as I have. The skills that could be obtained by working in fire for a few summers can easily help prepare individuals for other fields.”

The initiative is an effort to increase diversity, not just for diversity’s sake, Salyors said, but to take advantage of different backgrounds and different ways of thinking to make the organizations better.

“We do feel that fire and aviation management could benefit from having some different perspectives within the workforce,” she said.

Salyors grew up near Las Vegas and had no idea what the job of wildland firefighting was like – or that she would love it. She started her wildfire career in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in the summer of 2002.

“It was one of the more extreme seasons that we have on record,” she said.

That year, fires burned in Colorado urban areas, an Oregon blaze burned half a million acres and the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in Arizona raged out of control, ultimately consuming 481 structures and more than 468,000 acres.

“It was just a really huge, really active fire season,” she said. “It was a huge eye-opener of possibilities of what I could do.”

Fighting wildfires is physically tough, she said, but the long hours, difficult terrain and intense camaraderie are immensely rewarding.

“You question whether you can do it, and when you do do it, you’re … proud of your achievement,” she said.

The job also worked really well with her college schedule and she made enough money to not have to work as much during the school year.

After college, Salyors decided to pursue firefighting as a career. She progressed to jumping then rappelling out of a helicopter while on a Hotshot crew.

The Forest Service is recruiting women for emergency firefighting crew positions; the crews are called out if all the regular firefighters are busy.

“Then, if our fire season dictates we need more help, we can bring them in to supplement our numbers,” Salyors said.

Starting on an emergency crew is a great way to explore the possibilities of wildland firefighting.

U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter Megan Salyors and her teammates cross a river in Alaska, circa 2007, exact date and location not specified
Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

“They’re able to put a toe in the water. They get the training and get the actual hands-on experience,” Salyors said. “They can see that they’re tough enough, that they can handle it, that it’s not necessarily a machismo kind of environment.

“That’s some of the feedback that we get, some of the participants that have come through have said ‘You know, I learned I was a hard worker, I did things I didn’t think I could do.

“They realize that what they thought were their boundaries really aren’t.”

Roughly 10 percent of permanent wildfire positions are currently filled by women; for seasonal firefighters, the number is somewhat higher, Salyers said.

“Many people are unaware that women are wildland firefighters simply due to the low numbers of women in wildland fire management,” Dixie National Forest spokesman Bode Mecham said in a statement.

“However, the number of women coming into the wildland firefighting organization is growing. These women not only fight fire on the Dixie National Forest but all around the nation.”

U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter Megan Salyors learns to rappel from a helicopter near the city of John Day, Oregon, circa 2009, exact date and location not specified
Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News


The Dixie, Fishlake, Manti-La Sal, and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache national forests are looking for motivated hardworking individuals to train and become part of the Women in Wildland Fire program as on-call wildland firefighters.

Applications are available and accepted online until March 31 here.