National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2016 WOR Day 3: Physical Capacity

Ribbon symbol for survivor next to the Wildland Fire Leadership logoWeek of Remembrance June 30-July 6, 2016

Physical capacity is a vital component of job performance in wildfire suppression activities. The physical work performed is classified by OSHA in the “extremely hard” and the loads carried in the “very heavy” categories. The duration and intensity level of these physical activities is highly variable in most cases and places both short-term and long-term demands on the individual Physical training programs should not just prepare individuals for wildfire suppression activities but also work to manage long-term health of the individual. The ability to handle the physical challenges associated with the occupation can be paramount for employees’ ability to accomplish production goals without undue fatigue and without becoming a hazard to themselves or to coworkers.

WLFF Job Tasks:
Carrying Weight
Moving Brush

Training Specificity: It’s easy to make someone tired…but are you really making them better for what they need? What are the important traits for wildland firefighter (strength, speed, endurance)?  How do those interact?

  • The key one for long endurance activities is the aerobic threshold. The activity level where our bodies go from primarily using oxygen (aerobic) to non-oxygen (anaerobic) energy pathways. This threshold can change with fitness level. 

Training for occupation must be multi-dimensional (based on the job task demands)

  • A single exercise session should include the following phases:
    • Warm-up (5-10 min; low to moderate)
    • Stretching ( >10 min of stretching after cool-down)
    • Conditioning or sports-related exercise (20-60 min)
    • Cool-down (5-10 min; low to moderate)


Our bodies have different thresholds for this work performed.  Last year, physical training injuries were the 3rd highest group of total wildland fire injuries (2015 LLC Incident Review Summary). The biggest principle lacking from physical training programs typically is RECOVERY!

graphic of mountain peak with milestone markers of physical capacity at various points

The topics for the NWCG “Wildland Firefighter Week of Remembrance” have been drawn from the Human Performance Optimization course taught as a part of the USFS Apprentice Academy in cooperation with the Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) and is rooted in the desire to prepare wildland fire personnel to optimally manage themselves and others at any given time. Review and resources have been contributed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, NIFC External Affairs, the Wildland Fire annual refresher group, and the Wildland Fire Leadership Subcommittee.


Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

Have an idea or feedback?
Share it with the NWCG 6MFS Subcommittee.

Follow NWCG on Twitter  and Facebook