The "Red Card" is what qualifies a person to fight wildland fire with a federal agency or on federal land. The red card system is also a family of wildland fire training courses and corresponding certification that can be applied to wildland firefighting on a 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.
Your Wildland Fire “Driver’s License”
The Red Card itself is an illustration of an individual’s current wildland fire qualifications. It is part of the fire qualifications management system used by most state and federal wildland fire 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 functions similar to a driver’s license, showing the holder of the card has completed all the course work, training and on-the-job performance required to hold a particular position.
How to Get a Red Card
The steps necessary to obtain a Red Card and progress upward through the qualification system to higher rank and responsibility are 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 first 27 pages, as they provides a description of the overall system, including certification, maintaining currency, required training, position task books, fitness standards and incident complexity.
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, or introductory, level every firefighter is required to achieve before they may progress 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 on the Fireline. These three courses are usually offered as a single 36-40 hour class because they represent the entry-level for wildland firefighters. 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, is also a required training course. This course 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.
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 and you are then certified as 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 Advanced Firefighter/Squad Boss, FFT1) requires a combination of courses and on-the-job training. Required courses must be completed first, and then a "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 a 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.
Where To Obtain Training
In Nebraska, there are a growing number of opportunities for a firefighter to complete Red Card training:
- Nebraska Forest Service;
- Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Training Division;
- Nebraska Wildland Fire Academy; or
- Nebraska State Fire School.
If you can travel, our neighboring states also offer limited wildland fire training opportunities:
- Colorado Wildland Fire & Incident Management Academy – annually offered in January and June;
- State Capitol Area Firefighters School – annual school in Topeka, KS in March; and
- Midwest Wildfire Training Academy – annual school in Jefferson City, MO.
Your local federal or state land management agency may also offer training. Courses offered by a federal agency are usually 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.
The forms below may be downloaded in PDF format. Some forms are available in a format that allows them to be filled electronically and printed or emailed. Contact Casey McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a fillable form.
- Experience Equivalents
- Experience Reporting Form
- IQS Personal Information Sheet
- IQS Fitness Form
- Fitness Evaluation Questionnaire