The primary duties of a member of an IHC involve the suppression of wildland fires on assignments throughout the United States and Canada. Crew members are required to aggressively utilize all types of hand tools (to dig, chop, and cut) in order to suppress wildfires. The use of chain saws, radios, ignition devices, and numerous other pieces of equipment may also be a requirement. Patrolling, serving as a lookout, mopping-up, and hiking long distances over rugged terrain are also integral parts of the job. Firefighting involves working under very hazardous conditions for long periods of time and Hotshot crews are expected to accept the most difficult and hazardous tasks. A typical shift is 16 hours and working for 32 hours without relief often occurs. Firefighters often endure hot, smoky, dirty, dusty working conditions with little sleep and poor food. Sleep deprivation is the norm and working with sharp tools, in the dark, on a steep hillside, under hazardous conditions is a common occurrence. Hotshots are frequently required to work for days at a time with only the 40 pounds of equipment carried in a fire pack. The work performed is physically demanding and emotionally taxing. Together for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 6 months, the crew eats, works, travels, and rests as a unit. Under these conditions, compatibility, camaraderie, understanding, and crew pride are an absolute necessity.
IHCs are required to be available for incident dispatch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the fire season. Each member of the crew is expected to be available, night or day, for every dispatch. During duty hours, the crew is required to be en route to the incident within minutes of the call, and for off-duty hour dispatches, the crew must be assembled and traveling to the incident within 2 hours. These requirements greatly restrict the personal life of crew members and demand a high level of personal responsibility and commitment to the crew.
Travel is another important aspect of being a Hotshot. A typical fire season requires the crew to be away from the duty station for the majority of the 6 month period. Long drives in crowded conditions must be endured and travel by airplane and helicopter often occurs.
When not assigned to an incident, members of an IHC work a normal 40-hour week. Project work consists of hard manual labor performing a variety of forestry and/or station related duties.