Kelly '11, Outdoor Education | Earlham College
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Kelly Jacobs '11

Wildland Fire Fighter


Kelly -JacobsAt Earlham, what did you major in and in what kinds of activities were you involved?

My major was Psychology, with minors in Biology and English. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but didn't much like spending time indoors. Outside of classes I was a member of the Earlham Equestrian Cooperative, was on the riding team and the women’s rugby team, and also ran in the Earlham triathlon my senior year. I never worked for the outdoor education center, but enjoyed borrowing gear from them to take friends on our own (mis)adventures over breaks. It seems like every trip involved getting lost, or overloading our packs, or on one occasion nearly getting eaten by coonhounds (a genuine hazard when you camp on the Kentucky/Tennessee border). I guess that’s what experiential education is all about. 

What did you do right after graduating from Earlham?

I moved out to Colorado as soon as I graduated, and volunteered for a season as a Wilderness Ranger for the USDA/Forest Service. Volunteering or interning is a good way to get started with federal employment, and see if you like it. I worked at first just for housing and a food stipend, and couldn’t believe people actually got paid to go hiking and camping for a living. After that I traveled around a bit and took a series of fun seasonal jobs like sleigh driver and horse wrangler, before settling down in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. 

What are you doing now and what is awesome about it?!

I still work seasonally for the federal government, now as a Wildland Fighter. It’s a great opportunity to work outdoors, see many different beautiful parts of the country and to help protect them. This past summer I had assignments in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and California. Another great thing about my job is that I’m constantly focused on developing skills as well as learning new ones. For example, right now I am a Helitack trainee, practicing calling in bucket drops and making sling loads for the helicopter crews that help fight fire. I’m also trained as a line medic (crew EMT), and basic faller (chainsaw sawyer). There’s a lot of variety in the work and different specializations depending on what you’re most interested in. It’s not an easy job; work shifts are usually 14-16 hours a day for two weeks straight when out on an assignment. But it’s a great job for the kind of person who doesn’t mind working hard and getting dirty, and likes sleeping out under the stars. Another plus is getting winters off. In the off-season I mostly just ski and work on staying in shape for the next season. Working part-time for the local ski mountain gets me a free pass to most places in Colorado.


If you are interested in Kelly’s line of work, you can contact her at

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