Becoming a GISS

What is an NWCG Geographic Information Systems Specialist (GISS)?

The NWCG is an interagency coordination group for wildland fire. NWCG covers the standards and training requirements, including those for the GISS position which uses geospatial technologies to assist wildland fire response. A GISS creates hard-copy maps and digital products to improve the situational awareness of the firefighter and to aid in the decision making of the incident management team. Additional information about the position can be found on the GISS position page.

What does being a GISS-T mean?

The "-T" added to the end of a position means that the individual is a trainee. Trainees must take any required training for the position and demonstrate acceptable performance in an incident situation before becoming qualified for a position. Getting the required training and incident experience as a trainee generally takes two or more years for a GISS-T. Don't be in a rush to quickly move through the GISS-T process, the more incident experience you have the better and each incident is different and provides a different learning environment.

Determining your Sponsor

Many people interested in becoming a GISS are not coming from fire or land management agencies. This is perfectly acceptable, but makes navigating the steps to become a GISS-T more difficult. If you are not coming from a federal or fire agency the first step necessary is to determine who will "sponsor" your wildland fire participation. The sponsor is responsible for maintaining your incident qualification record, tracking your training, issuing your Red Card, helping with fire travel, and getting you paid. There is quite a bit of paperwork involved, so finding a sponsor that is familiar with the process will make it much easier.

Prospective GISS-T in federal agencies should check with the Fire Management Officer (FMO) for the area you are located. State employees should check with a state wildland fire agency. Those in the private sector can contact a local fire department, Office of Emergency Management, or reach out to a federal agency and inquire about becoming a temporary Administratively Determined hire for that agency. The process will be different for each agency.

Starting a Task Book

A GISS-T must complete a GISS Position Task Book which outlines the duties that must be performed to become a fully qualified GISS. NWCG position trainees will demonstrate competence in all task book requirements as well as taking any mandatory training (see training section below). Task book requirements must be signed off as completed by a qualified GISS who observes the GISS-T perform the work. Each individual is responsible for initiating their task book with their agency sponsor prior to working on an incident. Please check with your sponsoring Fire Management Officer or Training Specialist to open a task book.

Incident Qualifications Card aka "Red Card"

All personnel responding to a wildfire incident must have a Red Card. The Red Card lists the positions for which an individual is qualified as well as any trainee positions (positions with an open task book). These cards are generated by the incident qualifications tracking system used by the sponsoring agency. The federal agencies use the Incident Qualifications and Certification System (IQCS) and states use the Incident Qualifications System (IQS). These systems also track the classroom training and incident experience of the individual. Work with your sponsor agency to fill out a profile in the appropriate qualification systems and get a Red Card with GISS-T listed.

Some wildland fire positions require a Work Capacity (Fitness) Test to demonstrate a physical ability to do a job. There is no Work Capacity Test required for the GISS position.

Get listed in the Interagency Resource Ordering Capability (IROC)

After your Incident Qualifications have been loaded into the appropriate system, these systems will communicate with IROC, the system used to order personnel and supplies for a wildland fire incident. Work with your local dispatch center make sure you are listed correctly in ROSS and to determine the method used to change your "status." Your status determines your availability (Available or Unavailable) and for what area (Local, Geographic Area, National, or State).

Keeping your status current is very important to getting ordered successfully. If you are not listed as Available in ROSS you will not get a call. Also make sure you are not listed as available when you are not since turning down an assignment is considered a good way to not get a second call. When your status is set to Available, you are committing to a 14 day assignment if called so keep future schedule conflicts in mind. Make sure your supervisor and family are in agreement with your availability.

A NAP account will be required for accessing the IROC Self Status page. A NAP account can be requested by visiting the NAP web page (Internet Explorer required) and in the upper right hand corner selecting Request User Account.

Getting Ready for Assignment

Once your status is set to available in ROSS you could receive a call from dispatch at any time. Make sure you are ready to go at all times and pay attention to the contact phone you listed in ROSS. Review the GISS Preparing for Assignment video (below). Prepare you GISS kit and your "red bag" (travel bag, often called a red bag because most firefighters bags are red) and have them ready to go.

Time: 6:41

Improve your odds at getting an Assignment

There are several ways to improve your odds at getting a GISS-T assignment. One of these ways is to sign up to be on a Incident Management Team. Every year in the winter there is an outreach effort to get interested personnel to sign up for a team. This is done by geographic area and each area handles the timing a bit differently. Check the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) web page for a list of Geographic Area Coordination Center (GACC) links. Another way is to get on the priority trainee list for your geographic area. The same link as above can be used to find out information on the priority trainee list by geographic area. Finally, another good way to increase your odds of getting an assignment is by networking. Reach out to qualified GISS in your agency or teams that you have worked with in the past. Who you know is very important for the GISS-T, so use every opportunity to talk with GISS and Situation Unit Leaders and let them know you are available and interested.

How to be a good GISS Trainee

A good attitude and a willingness to help are hallmarks of a good GISS-T. When you do get the call to go on assignment be prepared to put in long hours assisting the lead GISS and the Situation Unit Leader (or possibly the Plans Section Chief for smaller assignments). As a trainee you are not expected to be able to do everything, you are there to learn and practice the job duties. Make sure you communicate when you don't understand something or need additional guidance. Keep a good attitude and expect to be working under pressure and on tight timelines.

When you show up at the incident make sure to get a briefing from the lead GISS and SITL. Outline expectations and make sure your role is clearly understood. Review your task book so the lead GISS understands what tasks would be most helpful for you as a GISS-T.  Also meet with the team training specialist so that they can help you get the best training assignment possible. 

At the end of the assignment make sure to get a detailed performance evaluation and any completed tasks signed off in your task book.

Work with your sponsoring agency to track and record any continued training and incident experience since this will help you maintain currency in the position.

Prepare for multiple GISS-T assignments

Each incident will be different with varying opportunities. Don't expect to get your task book "signed off" after one or two incidents. Typically performing all of the duties required in the task book may take 4-5 incidents over multiple years, so don't be in a rush to complete the task book. The more learning opportunities you have the better prepared you will be to perform as a GISS. There is no requirement that a GISS-T work on incidents of different complexity (Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, etc.), but doing that is strongly encouraged. Different types and complexities of incidents will have different product requirements, differences in the size of the GISS shop, and different levels of stress. Keep in mind that once you are "signed off" on your task book you will be expected to perform as a GISS Lead at any incident complexity type.

Training for GISS-T

The only required training for the GISS position is IS-100: Introduction to the Incident Command System, ICS-100 and IS-700: National Incident Management System (NIMS) An Introduction. Both of these training courses outline the command structure used during wildland fire incident response. The GISS should also know and use the NWCG Standards for Geospatial Operations, PMS 936 and the NWCG GISS Workflow, PMS 936-1. An additional class is strongly recommended for a  GISS-T, the S-341 Classroom Training. This class will prepare students for successful performance in the GISS position through a combination of coursework and hands on training of typical GISS tasks.

Note: Cal Fire require GISS-T to successfully complete S-341 before becoming a GISS Trainee.

Continuing your GISS Education

Continuing education is also a critical issue for the GISS. Due to continual advancement in GIS technologies, workflows, and changes in wildland fire applications, a GISS will need to spend time in the off season becoming familiar with all changes. Expect to see changes to the GISS process on a yearly basis. The NWCG Standards for Geospatial Operations, PMS 936 and the NWCG GISS Workflow, PMS 936-1 sites were created to help with this and should be referenced throughout the season for updated training materials.

Check out the GISS Position and GeoOps YouTube Playlist to learn more.



The first presentation discusses the GISS position and the GISS in the ICS structure.

Time: 4:49

Presentation:  GISS Position ICS & ICP


GISS Expectations

This video covers as a GISS, what to expect from the SITL and what the GISS expectations are.

Time: 5:14

Presentation:  GISS Expectations



This video looks at what to expect in ICP and Camp.

Time: 4:33

Presentation:  GISS Position ICP & Camp


Routine, Duties, and Demob

The next video looks at the typical routine and duties of the GISS on an incident and finally, demobilization.

Time: 7:48

Presentation:  GISS Position Routine, Duties and Demob


Page Last Modified / Reviewed: