Research the area of interest, both here and any info you can find regarding gold history of the area
Chances of finding gold is better in areas that gold has been found in the past
Learn how to pan, and depending on the area of interest, learn to use the tools for the area, ie metal detector(s), sluice box, high banking.
Obtain a handheld GPS, learn how to interpret maps, TOPO maps, being a firefighter I would think that would come easy...maybe LOL
It is your responsibility to know you are on the right claim or not, the rules of the area by those that rule the area. BLM, Forest Circus, state, county
Get out there and enjoy the surroundings
Dont forget, gold mining is fun, as your back is barking at you from working your butt off all day
So Much River So Little Time...Get Out There