Here’s a link to the report.
I don’t know how many TSW ites are involved in fire or fire hiring, but I’d be interested in your impressions of the report findings.
Also, I wonder which of these barriers are also barriers to other FS (and possibly BLM) hiring?
The FS retiree rumor network circulated that the FS was trying to hire 800 slots and at the end of the day would only get about 500 reporting (anyone with better info, please add). So it’s possible that there are barriers to hiring all kinds of folks; perhaps not the same barriers. Maybe it also depends on what the alternatives for employment are. I have heard that fewer folks want to work in the woods/brush/grass and more want to work in the office on computers, but I don’t know if that’s true.
But back to fire folks.. there’s an interesting discussion in the comments on Wildfire Today here.
What GAO Found
The federal wildland firefighting workforce is composed of approximately 18,700 firefighters (including fire management and support staff) from the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and from four agencies in the Department of the Interior. The Interior agencies are the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. GAO identified seven barriers to recruitment and retention of federal wildland firefighters through analysis of interviews with agency officials and 16 nonfederal stakeholders and a review of documents (see fig.).
Low pay was the most commonly cited barrier to recruiting and retaining federal wildland firefighters. Officials and all 16 stakeholders stated that the pay, which starts at $15 per hour for entry-level positions, is low. Officials and eight stakeholders also noted that the pay does not reflect the risk or physical demands of the work. Moreover, officials and stakeholders said that in some cases, firefighters can earn more at nonfederal firefighting entities or for less dangerous work in other fields, such as food service. The Forest Service and Interior agencies have taken steps to help address this barrier. For example, in 2022, the agencies worked with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to address a provision of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act calling for the agencies to increase firefighter salaries by the lesser of $20,000 or 50 percent of base salary in locations where it is difficult to recruit or retain wildland firefighters. In June 2022, the agencies announced that the salary increase would apply to wildland firefighters in all geographic locations, as their analysis indicated that recruitment and retention challenges existed in all locations. The act authorized funding for the wildland firefighter provisions, including those related to salary increases, for fiscal years 2022 through 2026, and appropriated some funding toward those provisions.
The Forest Service and Interior are taking steps to address other barriers as well. For example, to help improve work-life balance for firefighters, the Forest Service increased the size of some firefighting crews, a change intended to allow crew members to more easily take time off for rest or personal reasons, according to Forest Service officials. In addition, in fiscal year 2021, 84 percent of federal firefighters identified as men and 72 percent identified as White. To increase diversity, the agencies have recruited women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, including through a wildland firefighter apprentice program. The agencies are also taking steps to improve mental health services and hiring practices
E&E News has an article on it, here’s an excerpt:
In a wildland fire review on the Forest Service website last Thursday, officials referenced the increased pay and new emphasis on mental health — a reflection of GAO’s finding that emotional strain remains one of the barriers to hiring and retention.
“We look forward to continuing this conversation with the wildland firefighter community as we work to build and solidify the well-supported, more permanent wildland firefighting force needed to address the wildfire crisis,” said Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry Jaelith Hall-Rivera and acting Deputy Chief for Research and Development Cynthia West.
The Forest Service and the Interior Department together have a firefighting force of about 18,700, including support staff. Some 84 percent of firefighters in 2021 were men, and 72 percent white, although the agencies have focused recent recruitment at women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, GAO said.
To make further improvements, the Forest Service may need to pay particular attention to the concerns of people in their 20s who want to be firefighters, or to remain firefighters. That’s a priority for a group called the FireGeneration Collaborative, which sent representatives to the nation’s capital last week.
“They’re failing to connect with our generation,” said Kyle Trefny, a student at the University of Oregon and one of the group’s organizers, who’s also a wildland firefighter in the summer.
Trefny and others who visited with Forest Service officials and lawmakers said they’re pushing the agency to adopt policies and approaches more in line with younger adults who want to pursue careers in firefighting. Those include more diversity in fire crews, an embrace of planned fire as a forest management tool and flexibility in certain hiring practices.