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Red Card Training 101 – What Can You Expect?

Todd Adrian

Todd Adrian is U.S. Coast Guard veteran who resides in New Jersey and is currently serving as the membership engagement manager in Region II.

Wondering what it’s like to go through Red Card training with the Bureau of Land Management? From my experience at the course in Philadelphia last June, I’ll tell you that like most TR events, it’s a great opportunity to bond with teammates, and the partnership with the BLM is nothing short of amazing!

Several dozen TR members attended Red Card Training in Philadelphia with the BLM in 2015.
Several dozen TR members attended Red Card Training in Philadelphia with the BLM in 2015.

This course is designed to prepare you with the basics needed to safely deploy as a Wildland Firefighter Type 2 with BLM. Much of the course takes place in a classroom covering a mix of FEMA ICS, wildland fire basics, and human factors information. You spend the good part of a day in the field learning and practicing required firefighting and safety skills, and then there’s the infamous pack test: a three-mile walk carrying a 45-pound pack that must be completed in 45 minutes or less. At the end of the four-day course, you’ll get your Red Card (qualification card) and be eligible to deploy.

Here’s a rundown on what to expect:

Day 1 starts with a brief intro and a bit of administrative paperwork (to ensure you receive your paycheck for the course) before you head out to tackle the pack test. The idea of walking three miles in 45 minutes doesn’t sound all that rough, but if you haven’t done it wearing a 45-pound weighted pack, or it’s been a while since you have, you may be surprised. The test is definitely something you’ll want to train for several weeks in advance of the course, so you can gauge how much work you’ll need to do to get to a passing time.

Post-Red Card pack test celebration in Philadelphia.
Post-Red Card pack test celebration in Philadelphia.

Different agencies have different requirements for clothing and packs, but the TR/BLM course allows you to wear whatever footwear and clothing is comfortable (yes, sneakers and silkies are good!). Additionally, you can either use your own pack, which gets weighed before the test, or a weighted vest provided by BLM. The remainder of the first day is spent in the classroom covering some wildland fire fundamentals. After training is complete, you’ll head to the billeting/camping arranged for the course and enjoy the night of TR camaraderie.

The entire Day 2 of the training is spent in the classroom, chock-full of ICS lessons, fire behavior, and human factors information. You’ll also cover equipment and PPE in preparation for the big day in the field for skill building. Our instructors for the course were some of the most experienced smoke-jumpers in BLM, so they were able to keep things interesting by adding real world experiences to the textbook information.

Tacking the classroom portion of the Red Card training in Denver last year.
Tacking the classroom portion of the Red Card training in Denver last year.

Day 3 starts out in the classroom but ends with an afternoon of field training. There you’ll get acquainted with the range of tools, safety equipment, and techniques used by wildland firefighters. The instructors set up a variety of stations that each team rotates through to learn about digging firelines, controlled burn equipment, cold trailing (searching for hotspots), communications, pump and hose operations, and emergency fire shelter deployment. On the evening of day three, we had a group dinner, which provided for a great few hours with TR teammates.

Expect a mix of classroom and outdoor training before becoming certified to fight wildland fires with the BLM.
Expect a mix of classroom and outdoor training before becoming certified to fight wildland fires with the BLM.

The final training day includes a wrap-up of the remaining classroom modules, followed by a brief review of materials before the exam. Yes, there really is an exam, but if you’ve paid attention during the class and you’ve familiarized yourself with the Incident Response Pocket Guide (you’ll get at the training), you shouldn’t have any problem passing the test.

A few other things to know:

  • Transportation: TR members are responsible for their own transportation to the event, and there’s no reimbursement for mileage. However, you do get paid an hourly wage from BLM (somewhere in the range of $500 total for the 4 days) that you will receive a few weeks after the course to help offset personal expenses.
  • Food: TR supplies MREs for all meals at the training. If you love MREs, you are in luck, and if you don’t, there’s typically time to hit up a local deli or fast food location during lunch breaks.
  • Billeting: Campsites were arranged for our use during the training, but some people chose to stay at hotels at their own expense. This will vary by training location, so keep an eye out for lodging information in the specific event details.
  • What to pack: A packing guide is available for the training. For the most part it is TR casual (grey T-shirts / TR sweatshirts). For the field training day, you need to have long pants, long sleeves, and boots.

Some notes on boots – When you deploy to fight wildfires with BLM, your boots need to meet certain specs for safety reasons, and wildland approved boots typically cost $200+. For the training, you should be ok with any leather safety boot (should cover up to the mid-shin) and have Vibram soles. Once you’ve completed the training and you have plans to deploy, you can make the investment.

Ensure you've triple checked the pack list before going through the four-day training.
Ensure you’ve triple checked the pack list before going through the four-day training.

Although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to put my skills to use on a wildland fire, the Red Card training was an amazing TR experience filled with learning and camaraderie. I’m looking forward to training again with BLM as a way to keep certifications current and build on the foundational knowledge.

What was one of the most surprising things about Red Card training?
SPOILER ALERT: The red cards aren’t red.


TR members interested in signing up for Red Card training through the Bureau of Land Management can sign up in the following locations: 

Los Angeles – Jan 22-25
Austin – Jan 29-Feb 1
Atlanta – Feb 12-14
Seattle – April 15-18
Washington DC – April 29-May 2
Denver – May 27-30

  • Rich

    Thanks to the opportunity provided by TR and BLM I was able to go to Alaska on a wildfire deployment. I highly recommend going to the red card training. It was an awesome experience with awesome people and helped build life long friendships.

  • Robert Gould

    When do you plan on having one in Salt Lake City