Service crew

Forest service chief says in some areas only 50% of fire stations are filled

Chief Randy Moore testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee, May 5, 2022.

During testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore was asked by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley about the status of the hiring of wildland firefighters. Chief Moore said their goal is to hire 11,300 people nationwide and the current level is 10,200, or 90%. He said that in some areas the agency had only reached 50% of its staffing target.

“Fifty percent sounds a bit scary,” Senator Merkley said, “when you think about the fires we’ll be facing in our various states.”

Chief Moore said many Forest Service fire stations are in Washington, Oregon and California.

“We make offers, and there are a lot of variations in those offers,” Chef Moore said. “There is a lot of competition in the labor market for these skills. Because when you have county, state and private firefighters often times [making] doubling the salaries of Forest Service firefighters, it’s very hard to compete with that.

Chief Moore said they have a plan in place to address the shortfall they are currently seeing. They will be hiring until July to try to fill the remaining jobs and will rely on contract firefighters and the use of temporary administratively determined, or AD, personnel. ADs, if qualified, can be hired for days or weeks to outfit fire trucks and manual crews, and can also fill certain aerial positions during fires.

The chief’s words were different from those spoken by another very high-ranking person in the Forest Service. During testimony before Congress on April 5, the Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry for the United States Forest Service told members of Congress that a firefighter hiring event “has went very well.” Turns out the event hadn’t started yet.

“We just completed an additional firefighter hire event in California at the end of March and those numbers keep coming in,” Ms. Jaelith Hall-Rivera said. “I think we are on the pace. By all accounts, this hiring event went very well. What is important is that we see a very high acceptance rate in our permanent and seasonal permanent firefighter positions, which is what we want. »

In recent years, federal wildfire agencies have had difficulty hiring and retaining firefighters, resulting in hotshot engines and crews unable to respond to blazes as it there are not enough employees to staff them to minimum standards. Reasons given for resignations, early retirements and refusal of job offers include very low wages, long periods of absence, the government’s inability to financially support staff injured on the job and stress on the family life.

On Monday, National Public Radio’s flagship station in Southern California, KCRW, interviewed Brianna Sacks, a Buzzfeed News reporter who has covered hiring and retention issues facing the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies that have wildfire responsibilities.

“Burnout is very real for these firefighters who do not earn money. They make a living doing thousands of overtime hours and they still can’t afford to make ends meet,” Sacks told KCRW. “They left bleeding firefighters en masse to go to CAL FIRE, PG&E or private sector jobs. And they have also been part of the great resignation with the pandemic. »

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fires for 33 years, he continues to learn and strives to be a student of fire. See all articles by Bill Gabbert