Wildland Firefighters Future: Why 1039’s Should Think Ahead

If you’re a 1039 temporary wildland firefighter like me, you don’t have retirement through your work. Sure there is the perk of doing what you love, but nobody is looking out for your financial future. We all want that permanent job one day, but until that happens, what do we do? We have a lot of people in this organization who have no retirement set up, bust their ass, and end up with the shit end-of-the-stick of hoping on faith their effort is worthwhile and will eventually be exchanged for a career (with benefits).

Recently I did my taxes. At the end of all of those check-box questions and rifling through W2’s, 1098 t’s, 1099 g’s, and other nonsense, I came to a page telling me about how there was a tax deduction for opening an IRA, which stands for Individual Retirement Account. Yeah, I googled that. There was a time in my life about 15-20 years ago when investing and stocks were a frequent part of family discussion. But I was the youngest and the Simpsons were more relevant. When you’re ten years old it all sounds like stupid bullshit. I became a teenager and still didn’t have an interest, then spent most of my 20’s drinking beer and partying. Now I’m 29, going into my 6th season, and I’m beginning to see how starting a lot sooner would’ve helped. I’m hanging in there until the bitter end in wildland fire (for the elusive permanent job), but until I get there, I’m starting to take charge of my financial future.

I opened an account through Fidelity because it was the first organization I came across; but there are others too, including Schwab, E-Trade and Scott Trade. Not having much money in the bank, but expecting a $3-4000 dollar return on my taxes, I decided to deposit 1000 dollars into an IRA. I felt pretty darn cool. Independent. Smart. The process hasn’t been easy. So far I’ve had to fax them twice, which is a huge pain – driving to Fred Meyers and going to their customer service desk to fill out a fax transmission cover letter. First they needed two forms of government issued ID to verify my identity: I used my drivers license and a birth certificate. Then they needed to verify my proof of address and needed a bank statement to validate my account. Frustrating, these adult errands. I complied.

Then came an even bigger pain due to an error on my part. Not knowing what the hell I was doing when first opening my IRA, I opened an IRA called “Rollover”. FYI: If you’re opening an IRA for the first time, it isn’t a rollover. Open a ROTH IRA. A Roth Individual Retirement Account assumes the income you are depositing has already been taxed and will not be taxed when you take it out. Something like that.

Fortunately for me, I have a father who knows some about investing. He understands me well enough to know I’m stubborn, and doesn’t push me one way or the other too much. I asked him for websites where I could go to learn more about investing, places with info for the entry level beginner. He suggested AAII, Motley Fool, Yahoo Finance and Vanguard. This whole process is foreign to me, and to most of us widlland folks I’ll bet. I think what this initial step has given me is a starting point, a train of thought in the right direction. I know I don’t know anything about this stuff, but understand it’s important I think about it N-O-W.

What does an IRA have to do with running saw all day or digging line? If you’re holding out for a career in this organization, it could have a lot to do with it. Start asking questions from people who know a thing or two about it.  Get invested in your future as a wildland firefighter. I passed my IRA endeavors to a guy on my crew who I view as a younger brother because I figured it was something he could benefit from, if he could somewhat get past the immediate gratification of having another 1000 dollars around for 21 year old nonsense. For what it’s worth.

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  1. Alex Viktora

    Thanks for getting this word out to the wildland fire service. Thinking ahead, planning for the future and managing scarce resources are central to good fire management. These skills are also central to a good career and retirement.

    A few additional thoughts: do a quick google on the term Index Fund.” Check out what they are, and why Index Funds should be part of a long-term investment strategy, especially in an IRA.

    Kudos to this article!


    • studentoffire

      Thanks for the compliment and input/advice. This goes unnoticed frequently during those temporary years.

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