Nebraska Incident Qualification System (the 'Red Card')

To fight wildland fire with a federal agency or on federal land, a firefighter must have what is commonly referred to as the red card. The red card is part of a family of wildland fire training courses and corresponding certification/credentials that can be applied to wildland firefighting on any local fire district.  This page provides information regarding the Nebraska Incident Qualification System (IQS), the red card and how to progress up through the system. Programs can vary slightly by state, so be sure to check with your local state forestry office for more information.

Your Wildland Fire Credentials
The red card itself is the illustration of an individual’s current wildland fire certifications. It is part of the fire qualifications management system used by most state and federal wildland fire and land management agencies. All firefighters assigned to an incident managed by a federal agency, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and many state agencies are required to have a red card.  The red card is somewhat like a driver’s license, showing the holder of the card has completed the course work, training and on-the-job performance evaluations required to hold a particular position.

How to Get a Red Card

The full process to obtain a Red Card and progress upward through the qualification system to higher responsibility is outlined in the Wildland Fire Qualification System Guide also known by its Publications Management System (PMS) number, 310-1.  When viewing 310-1, pay special attention to the early sections, as they provide a description of the overall system, including certification, maintaining currency, required training, position task books, fitness standards and incident complexity.

In Nebraska, the Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) issues red cards to non-federal firefighters affiliated with a fire department, agency or organization. Here are the documents required to obtain a card. All must be received by NFS prior to the issue of a card:

  • Required course completion documentation (student roster, course completion certificate, see below for courses),
  • Documentation of annual fire refresher training (RT-130) for those renewing a card,
  • Documentation of annual work capacity test (forms available below, others may also be accepted).

National Wildfire Coordinating Group Courses
All National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) courses are categorized by a 4-5 digit identifier, S-190 for example.  The first letter designates the type of course.  There are nine different types of courses, as shown in the list below.

D Dispatch Courses FI Fire Investigation Courses
I Incident Command Courses L Leadership Courses
M Management Courses P Prevention Courses
RT Refresher Courses RX Prescribed Fire Courses
S Suppression Skills Courses    


A complete listing and description of each NWCG course, including student and instructor requirements, time required to complete each course and target students, can be found in the Field Manager’s Course Guide, PMS 901-1.

Steps to Obtain Certification
There is a base level every firefighter must achieve before progressing upward in the system. It is achieved by taking three classes:  S-130 Firefighter Training, S-190 Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior and L-180 Human Factors in the Wildland Fire Service. Because they represent the entry-level for wildland firefighters, these courses are usually offered as a single 36-40 hour class. Included within the course is a field training session, which is typically at least 5 hours long, and a practice fire shelter deployment.
I-100, Introduction to Incident Command System and IS-700 National Incident Management System (NIMS) An Introduction, are also required training courses. I-100 has been determined to be the equivalent of IS-100, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)/Homeland Security course required of all persons involved with emergency planning, response or recovery efforts.  If you have previously taken IS-100 online or otherwise, you will not need to take I-100 again. Both courses are available online through FEMA.

The final step in obtaining a Red Card is to pass a fitness test. As stated in 310-1, “Personnel must meet established physical fitness levels for wildland fire assignments. Agencies may determine the method of evaluating the physical fitness level of their personnel. However, the testing method should be a measurable evaluation process.”  Most wildland fire agencies use the "pack" test. Depending on your anticipated fireline assignment, there are three levels of pack testing: light, moderate and arduous. Primary firefighters are required to pass the arduous level test: a three mile walk with a 45 pound pack that must be done in less than 45 minutes. In Nebraska, the authority having jurisdiction, typically the fire chief or agency administrator, determines the fitness standard for their personnel.

Moving Up In the System
Those are the basic steps in getting into the Red Card System: complete the S130/S190/L180/I100 courses, complete a practice shelter deployment and successfully complete the fitness test. This information, along with your personal information, is submitted to the Nebraska Forest Service for entry into the Incident Qualifications System (IQS) database. The database generates a red card showing certification at the Type II firefighter (FFT2) level. 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 Advanced Firefighter/Squad Boss, FFT1) requires a combination of courses and on-the-job training.  Required courses must be completed first, and then a "position task book" will be issued to the firefighter. A task book contains a list of various tasks and duties that must be performed in a variety of situations under the supervision of a firefighter certified at an equal or higher level. Upon completion of each task, your supervisor initials your task book to signify that you have done the job successfully. When the entire book is complete, and following certification by the appropriate authority, the firefighter will be considered qualified and certified at the next level.

Utilization of Existing Firefighter Experience
To recognize previous experience, an “Experience Equivalency” system has been developed.  Briefly, this system would waive task book requirements for positions up to single resources boss provided a firefighter has a documented level of firefighting experience and number of years on the fireline.  Course requirements will not change.  Documentation of a firefighter’s experience must come from the fire chief and can be submitted on an Experience Reporting Sheet or other suitable documentation. Details of the Equivalency system and reporting forms are available in the IQS Forms section.

Obtaining Training
In Nebraska, contact the NFS Fire Training Program for all your wildland fire training needs. Training is also available at the Nebraska Wildland Fire Academy and Nebraska State Fire School.

If you can travel, our neighboring states also offer wildland fire training opportunities:

Your local federal land management agency may also offer training. Courses offered by a federal agency are often open to all participants, provided the courses do not fill with federal firefighters.  Search the National Wildland Fire Training Schedule, which lists most training available nationwide. 

IQS Forms 

The forms below may be downloaded in PDF format. Forms are available in a format that allows them to be filled electronically and printed or emailed.