Interviews

The Wildland Firefighter: Avi Farber

Along with great courage, it takes exceptional strength, endurance and athleticism to face the fire.

Name: Ari Farber
Occupation: Wildland Firefighter
Age: 26

Not only is it highly dangerous, but battling forest fires has got to be one of the most physically demanding jobs out there. Trudging across rugged terrain while carrying heavy equipment through raging fires requires the highest level of conditioning, strength, endurance and courage. Fortunately, for wildland firefighter Ari Farber, he's got all those qualities covered. With a combination of intense training and a healthy diet, Farber maintains an optimal level of fitness to keep him in peak condition for his grueling job. Here's a little bit more about this fierce firefighter, and how he finds the strength to battle the toughest of blazes. 

M&F: Tell us briefly about your job as a firefighter.

AF: I am part of a crew of twenty that travels around the country to wildfire incidents. Our shifts are sixteen hours long and we work fourteen days in a row, sometimes more. A fourteen day stretch is known as a ‘roll’ and after each roll we get two mandatory days of rest. Our fire season stretches from April to October. We work in high stress environments, breath smoke, and carry weight on our backs all summer. It’s not uncommon to work in temperatures above 100 degrees F, or through the night. We construct containment lines by clearing away a swath of forest canopy and ground fuels like pine needles and brush. We then utilize fire to fight wildfires through operations called burnouts or back burns. A burnout is where we set a fire within a containment line ahead of the main fire. The intention being that when the main fire gets there, the fuels (trees, shrubs, grass) have already burned and the fire will not spread. 

What physical demands does your job entail? 

Hiking up and down steep hillsides with heavy backpacks and chainsaws for days on end. Sleeping on the ground. Digging and digging and digging. 

Why is it important you be physically fit for your job?

The job will force you into good shape. Beyond that, fitness is a matter of safety in wildland fire. Weather conditions and fire behavior can change quickly and we are continually exposed to rough environments. If we get sudden wind shifts or unexpected increases in fire behavior it can be necessary to move to a safer spot quickly. Trying to outrun a fire is a bad place to be, and you’re a lot less likely to do so effectively if you're out of shape. Likewise, your body has a harder time coping with the heat and exertion when you’re not in your best shape.

How do you train for your job?

In the off season I like to ski in the backcountry, that is, hike up mountains and ski down them. The workout I get is similar to the demands of the job, hiking in steep terrain with weight. I don’t work with weights much. I think it could be helpful, but it’s more convenient for me to access the mountain range behind my house than the gym. I do a lot of bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, and planks. During the season we hike, run, and do bodyweight exercises as a crew. We are given two hours a day to PT which is a big perk to the job. 

What's your diet like?

I tend to eat pretty healthy. I eat a little bit of everything and just go by what my body is telling me. I generally avoid really processed foods and heavily fried food. I don’t eat fast foods because they make me feel slow. I especially like black beans, root vegetables, and bison. I like to start my day with a smoothie that has greens, yogurt, walnuts, banana, honey. I'll supplement with some protein because I find it helps me keep my baseline fitness up. 


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