Working in a wild land fire camp

John Harrelson

New Member
A typical call out goes something like this…

0230 hrs.. Phone rings and wakes you up.. “How quick can you get to the yard with all your personal gear ready to go?”

Personal gear consists of a tent, sleeping bag, folding cot, ten days of clothing, including at least two pairs of shoes and a heavy winter coat as well as a sweatshirt.

Any medicines, grooming items, extra eyeglasses, cell phone w/ 12vt charger, a paperback book for those slack times, ( ha ha ha) and at least $100 emergency money (in small bills)..

Oh yes, don’t forget your Commercial Drivers License “Class B” .. You must have at the least, a current class “B” and if you have a class “A”, you can normally get paid a little more..
Don’t forget that a commercial license requires a current medical card.

0330 hrs (or as quick as you can ) arrive at yard and get trucks loaded and receive instructions and directions..

Note: we normally have to be at the fire camp within 8 hours of call out. Unless its over 500 miles away or out of state, then we can sometimes get a 12 or 24 hour deadline..

If for some reason we can’t make the deadline, we lose the job and don’t get paid.. The government then calls out another company.

In 2002, we had to convoy to Steam Boat Springs, Colorado, where we spent over two months on Colorado’s largest fire in the state’s history.. We drove from California, non-stop across country all night and all next day to get there on time.

Then after being there three weeks, I was awakened in the middle of the night and sent to Wyoming’s Rabbit Ears Pass for another three weeks there…
I had to jump out of bed, roll up my bedroll, grab all my gear and drive all night ,, again ,, to get to the Wyoming fire camp..
Did not see home for over two solid months..

00-- whatever -- hrs. Arrive camp after 12 hours of loading and driving.. Start setting up twenty or more 20’ x 30’ tents, two shower trailers, a laundry trailer, 150 portable toilets,.. This must be done as quickly as possible, usually within 4 to 8 hours after arrival in camp.

Normally by this time the field kitchens have arrived and we can get a ten minute break for a cup of coffee or a bottle of water.. Dinner will be ready sometime around 2200 hrs or later.. Then its back to work…

2200 hrs… thank goodness, dinner is ready, we will stand in line for between 10 minutes and one hour to get some food.. And hopefully find a place to sit where the body odor from 500 to 1000 people will not gag us..

2230 hrs.. now our stomachs are full and we are getting extremely tired and sleepy… we have been at it for 20 hours straight…
but, some of us have to stay up all night to operate the showers for the firefighters and camp personnel .. Also the laundry must continue to operate all day and night, washing dirty clothes of the firefighters.

Its now 0300 hrs the next day … and the temperature has dropped down to 26 degrees and the water hoses are in danger of freezing.. We can only hope that people keep coming to take a shower because running water does not freeze..
You did remember to bring your winter coat didn’t you ?

Normally after everything is set up and running smoothly, the crew will be divided into two shifts of 12 hours each.. (ha ha ha .. What a laugh)
The day crew starts at 0500 hrs and ends between 2000 hrs and 2400 hrs depending on if nothing has changed that has effected the current operation..
Same for the night crew, they start at 1200 hrs (noon time) and will continue through the night until 0500 next morning

If you have been assigned to drive a water truck, either the grey, or black or potable tankers.. You will continue all night (or day) non-stop, driving sometimes as far as 100 miles to get fresh water for the showers, laundry, kitchen , air conditioners,

or you will be pumping out the porta potties ( with a flashlight clenched in your teeth if on the night shift ) and then making a run to God only knows where to dump the tank…

Then there is the grey water truck,, suck out all the grey water from the bladder bags and go dump the tank where you are instructed,, once again it could be as much as 100 miles away..

Somewhere between 24 and 48 hours after that 0230 phone call, you will get a chance to grab a little sleep,, hopefully a good 8 hours sleep,,, but don’t bet on it.. More than likely you will crawl into a truck cab for a 30 minute nap..

Finally, one morning, the word comes down.. “De-Mob”… Now everything goes in reverse… disconnect, tear down, pump dry, make final dumps, pack everything away in trucks and trailers and move out for home… hopefully….

But maybe not …….
about halfway home , your cell phones rings,, another call out.. Open a bottle of water and splash it on your face and continue to drive to next fire camp… you only have 8 hours to get there and have everything all setup and in operation or we lose the job to another company…

God.. What I would give for a cold beer… ooops… sorry Charlie,
we are not allowed to have even one alcoholic drink of any type during the entire stretch of the fire season, between May 1 st and November 31 st… not even on your days off… because of the possibility of another call out.

If you want to grab a smoke, you will have to find time to do it between tasks and you must move away from the operations area to a designated smoking area.. There is no smoking in company trucks or trailers.

You cannot leave the fire camp when off duty,, because if the fire “Blows Up” … its “all hands on deck” …. emergency tear down, pack up and move entire camp operation to a safe area and set up camp all over again… ASAP !!… oh well… here is another 36 hour day…

You can figure on walking about 10 miles a day and using muscles you didn’t know you had.. For the first couple of weeks, you will be so sore, that you just want to crawl away and die.. Suggest bringing a bottle of aspirin or other type pain medications..

And remember, while you may only be out for three days at a time,,, ( we hate those 3 day wonders) you could also be out for several weeks to several months without seeing mama and the kids,,,
Some folks can’t go that long away from the family.. or for any number of other reasons, like doctor appointments, etc….

There is no separation of sexes in our company, everybody does the same jobs as needed,, there are no “women’s” jobs.. like working in the laundry,, everybody will have their turn at it..
Vice versa, the women can be called upon to pump out the porta potties just as quick as the men.. There is no women’s lib in a fire camp, everybody is treated the same and paid the same…

In a good summer, you can make $6,000.00 to $10,000.00 (or more if it’s a long season ) and when fire season is over,, you will have memories that will last a lifetime.. Some good, some not so good… but all will be spectacular…

Its funny how as time goes by, the bad things seem to fade away and you recall the good things, the camaraderie of friends, the fantastic food, the excitement…. WOW !! What a rush that was….

Finally … I don’t want to discourage anyone from looking into this type of summer work, but I thought you should know the down side to it and what really happens when the phone rings..

The only “Glory” to working in a fire camp are the memories it gives you..

If you are interested in doing something like this during the summer, simply go to a current fire camp that is operating at a large wild land fire and look for the vendor’s equipment, like shower trailers, laundry trailer, people putting up tents, setting out toilets, etc..

or drop by your local US Division of Forestry office, BLM office, your state’s division of forestry office or the local fire department in your town and ask for suggestions and some vendors names..

If you were to ask an experienced wild land fire fighter who his friends are at a fire camp he will likely say, the shower guys or the laundry people and especially the cooks,…

Because there is nothing better to a tired fire fighter than coming back to a fire camp after 12 hours on the fire line and being able to get a nice hot shower, a fantastic meal and going to sleep in an air conditioned tent with the knowledge that they will have fresh clean clothes to put on when they wake up.

Have a good summer and remember,, if you are careless with fire, you will buy me a new RV with all that tax money you pay each year.. Can you afford to pay for it ?
The choice is up to you..



New Member
Working in a wild land fire camp

You have way to much time on your hands. You need to take up a hobby of some kind or a part time job. Way to much time at the computer.

John Harrelson

New Member
Working in a wild land fire camp

You are probably correct TURNIP.. hmmnnnn ... maybe a checker board .. ya think ? :) :) hahahaha ...

I posted this because of all the emails and private messages I have received over the winter months from people wanting to know how to get a summer job in the fire camps and what to expect if they get the job..

This is a description of an average fire call.. and what can and has, happened to me in the past..

but as to a serious hobby... its coming in about 60 days, as soon as the grasses dry out and the weather turns hot..

have a good one,


Senior Member
Working in a wild land fire camp

John, nice report and great reading. You should try your hand at writing whe you find youself sitting around the fire camp with nothing to do! Actually, you should give it a try in the off season. You answered many questions without anyone spelling them out! Great post.