June 2003 Newsletter > The Red Card: The Driver’s License of Firefighting

The Red Card: The Driver’s License of Firefighting

The firefighting “red card” is required to verify and document wildland firefighter qualifications. The following was adapted from the information provided by the Kansas Forest Service to provide guidance in dealing with the Incident Qualification System (IQS) and the associated “Red Card.”

  Southern part of the Hayman fire. The Tatanka Hot Shots burns out around structures.
  Southern part of the Hayman fire. The Tatanka Hot Shots burns out around structures. Photo by Karen Wattenmaker.

1. What is a Red Card?
The red card itself is no more than a printout of the current wildland fire qualifications of an individual. It’s part of the fire qualifications management system used by most state and federal wildland fire management agencies. All firefighters assigned to a fire being managed by a federal agency (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs or U.S. Fish & Wildlife) and many state agencies are required to have a red card. In a sense, it’s similar to your drivers license. It shows that the holder of the card has completed all the course work and training required to hold a particular position.

2. How do I obtain a Red Card?
The steps necessary to obtain a red card and progress upward through the qualification system to higher rank and responsibility is outlined in the Wildland and Prescribed Fire Qualifications System Guide, Publications Management System number PMS 310-1. A copy of it is available on the U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management web page (file located at http://www.nwcg.gov/pms/docs/310-1new.pdf).

Engine Crew monitors a fire burning along the road.  
Engine Crew monitors a fire burning along the road.
Photo by Tim Sutten.


3. What are the steps to obtain the minimum qualification?
There is a base or introductory level that every firefighter is required to achieve before they can progress upward in the system. It starts by taking two classes. (All the courses are categorized by a 4-5 digit identifier, S-190 for example - ‘S’ is used for skills courses, ‘I’ for incident command, ‘D’ for dispatch, ‘RX’ for prescribed fire). S-130, Firefighter Training and S-190, Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior are two separate courses usually offered simultaneously because they represent the entry level. Combined, these usually take about 4 days of instruction to complete. (They are also sometimes combined with I-100, Introduction to ICS.) The next step is to complete another short course, Standards for Survival. It’s usually about 4 hours long and is taken every year as a refresher. It re-emphasizes the importance of safety on the fireline and includes a practice fire shelter deployment. The final step in obtaining a red card is to pass the fitness test. Most wildland fire agencies are using a test called the “pack” test. Depending on your predicted fireline assignment, there are three levels: light, moderate and arduous. Primary firefighters are required to pass the arduous level, a three-mile hike with a 45-pound pack in less than 45 minutes.

  A crew fights one of last season’s fires in Colorado.
  A crew fights one of last season’s fires in Colorado.

4. Once I have the Red Card, what do I do to move up in the system?
Those are the three basic steps in getting into the red card system - complete the S-130/190, complete Standards for Survival and practice shelter deployment and successfully complete the pack test. That will get you a red card and you will be considered a Type II firefighter (FFT2). A firefighter at this level will probably be a crew member (Hot Shot or hand crew, engine, helicopter, etc) with limited responsibilities other than fire suppression (line construction, engine operation, etc). To move beyond this level (the next level is a squad boss, FFT1) is a combination of courses and on the job training. Courses must be completed first and then a “taskbook” will be issued to the firefighter. It contains a listing of various tasks and duties that must be performed in a variety of ways under the supervision of a firefighter at a higher level. Upon completion of each task and duty, your supervisor initials your task book to signify that you have done the job successfully. When the entire book is complete, the firefighter will be considered qualified and certified at that level.

5. Where can students can obtain this training?
Here are just a few of potential sites for wildland fire training in Colorado. Many agencies offer their own fire training programs, check with your emergency management department for details.
Great Plains Wildfire College http://www.cowildfireacademy.com/college.html

Colorado Wildfire Academy

Colorado Northwest Community College

Rocky Mountain Wildland Fire Training

Other Wildland Fire Training Links

The Wildland and Prescribed Fire Qualifications System Guide was developed to provide guidance to agencies and organizations in establishing minimum interagency training, skills, knowledge, experience and physical fitness standards for wildland fire positions. The guide can be downloaded at http://www.nwcg.gov/pms/docs/310-1new.pdf.

Fires are not ‘put out’
Wildfires are fought by a diverse group of firefighters and support personnel from more than 20 local, state and federal agencies. The goal is to mitigate unwanted fire and provide public safety.

Wildfires are not “put out” in the sense that a house fire is extinguished. Firefighters surround wildfires within defensible boundaries. Fire line (constructed by hand, by bulldozer, and by retardant drops, or extended to existing trails or roads) and natural features (streams, lakes, rock outcrops, ridgelines, and already burned areas) are connected to surround the fire. Once the main fire is surrounded, firefighters mop up remaining hotspots and the fire line to achieve control over the fire.

If you are involved in a firefighting effort you should be familiar with wildfire terminology.

An extensive list of Wildland Fire Terminology is provided by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) Hayman Recovery Assistance at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/hayres/terminology.htm.