Becoming a Hotshot

Andrew Avitt
Pacific Southwest Region
July 26, 2023

Firefighter Bobby Blaine smiles while working in the forest and wears a hart hat and Nomex shirt.

When Bobby Blaine was 23, he didn’t know much of anything about wildland fire. He knew he much preferred working outdoors to his job as a manager at a powder coating shop. And he also knew he needed a break.

So he took some time off. He packed his gear and set out for a modest hike along one of the nation’s favorite hiking routes — the Pacific Crest Trail.

“I just wanted a change of pace,” said Blaine. “I wanted to work in the woods. I just didn’t know how or exactly what yet.”

Blaine’s hike along the trail served as a time to reflect and gave him the chance to experience these wildland areas where one day he hoped to work.

“When I was hiking the trail, I saw wildfires the whole way. It was such a devastating year,” said Blaine. “From Northern California all the way up to the Canadian border, I saw the effects of wildland fire and I wanted to do something to help. How could I help?”

A chance encounter on the trail with a smoky gentleman carrying on oddly shaped hand tool near Crater Lake, Oregon, seemed to be his answer.

“It was kind of like divine intervention. It was the first time I’d ever seen a wildland firefighter and it turned out he was a smoke jumper. He was all covered in black, dirty and I was like, ‘What is this guy doing?’ He had his pack and a Pulaski, and he told me about his job and my mind was blown.”

The following fall, Blaine got his first job in wildland fire with the Forest Service as a forestry technician working on a crew in Washington.

Life as a Hotshot

Blaine has now been with the Forest Service for five years and currently works as a lead forestry technician on the American River Hotshots. He and the rest of the crew fight fire, locally and across the country.

Summers for a hotshot crew tend to be busy — 14 days on, three days off, back to back to back — responding to and suppressing fires.

“We’re always ready to go in two hours or less all summer long, even on our days off,” said Blaine. “It’s exciting and the job appeals to me in many ways. To protect the forest that I love so much. The adventure, camaraderie and the overall the satisfaction we get from helping local communities and local forests.”

And in the wintertime when wildfire activity abates, they continue to care for the land by clearing vegetation and using prescribed fire. Off season means clearing and brushing trails, cutting down hazard trees, planting new trees, preparing for and handling prescribed burns, and anything else just to mitigate the risk for wildfires in the area.

They also stay ready.

“Day to day, when we’re not suppressing wildfires, we are taking care of things around the station, taking care of the trucks, making sure that we’re always fire ready and that we’re physically fit.

“It’s very exciting. It can be very stressful at times, but you learn to manage your stress. And there’s this general feeling of constant learning and constantly challenging myself whether it’s physically or mentally. It’s never easy.”

Blaine has some encouraging advice for those interested in wildland firefighting with the Forest Service.

“Anyone interested in being a forestry tech really should just do it,” said Blaine. “Just apply. Show up in shape, be ready to work, and be a sponge. There’s a lot to learn. The experience is going to change your life and the way you look at the world. Even if you do it as a temporary gig to help you get through college, it’ll transform you as a person.”

Forestry technicians serve as fire lookouts, support recreation, fight wildland fire, assess and manage forest health. And though these jobs vary greatly, they have one big similarity, plenty of work in the great outdoors. Interested in Forestry Technician positions, please visit the Forest Service website.

The Forest Service is recruiting for hundreds of forestry technician (0462) positions throughout the agency. Applications are available through USAJOBS.