Suiting up: the cost of a wildland firefighter's gear

It costs nearly $3,000 to outfit a wildland firefighter, but their help in a fire is priceless


Logan Baird began his first season as a seasonal wildland firefighter at the beginning of April.

Trying out the firefighter track after deciding that engineering and business weren't quite his forte, 21-year-old Baird is starting out as a seasonal forestry technician for the Española Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest.

Baird, pictured, hasn't been called to battle a wildfire yet. But he's ready, should his team get that call: He was issued his fire gear not long after signing on to the job.

According to spokespeople from the National Forest Service, it costs about $2,700 to outfit a wildland firefighter from head to toe:

• Hard hat: $55

•Nomex, flame-resistant shirt: $150 (each firefighter gets two)

• Gloves: 2 pairs; $15 each

• Nomex pants: 2 pairs; $200 each

• Boots: $400-$600 (depending on personal preference)

• An emergency pack, including a medical kit, navigational guide, headlamp, etc.: $300

• Communications radio: $800

• Fire shelter: $400

Much of the gear a firefighter carries is good for about five years in the field, according to Bruce Hill, a spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest.

When possible, the U.S. Forest Service issues used gear in good condition. Fire packs, the flame-retardant pants and shirts, compasses, shelters and other items can be redistributed after they've been inspected, said Anna Bouchonville, a forest spokeswoman.

While pants, shirts and other gear are distributed by the agency, firefighters' boots are their own, spokespeople said, and are subsidized with a government stipend.

Outside the costs for gear is the price tag to feed and house troops fighting an active fire. Troops usually set up a base camp near a fire scene and eat meals prepared by caterers or local restaurants, Bouchonville said.

But when a base camp is unavailable -- for example, because of poisonous snakes or spiders in an area, or high temperatures -- crews receive a stipend to bunk in hotels and buy food. Firefighters also receive per diem pay for traveling to and from a fire.

The amount of a stipend or per diem changes depending on the time of the month and where the fire is, Bouchonville said. In Santa Fe, firefighters would get $64 a day for food and $119 for lodging.

Sometimes when firefighters are out in the field battling a blaze, they might end up in a remote area. Instead of returning to base camp after their shift, Bouchonville said, they would rely on ready-to-eat meals known as MREs. These packaged meals, issued three times a day, are typically used by the military in combat, and they don't need to be refrigerated.

The MREs cost about $20, Hill said.

Costs rack up, sure.

As Hill put it in an email:

"One pair of fire boots, $400.

"One communications radio, $800.

"Saving a community from a catastrophic wildfire, priceless."

Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or sedge@sfnewmexican.c­om.