Ranking the federal fire agencies

Every year the U.S. Office of Personnel Management conducts a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey asking employees dozens of questions about their perceptions of what it is like to work at their agency. Below are some examples of the questions from the 2014 survey:

Examples of questions FEVS survey

We don’t have the government-wide comparative results for the 2014 survey, but the 2013 data is available on the BestPlacesToWork.org site. We looked up last year’s findings for the five federal agencies that employ the most wildland firefighters. The numbers below indicate the ranking out of 300 agencies, with the lower numbers being better. The links will take you to more details about the results for each agency:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 75
  2. Bureau of Land Management, 155
  3. National Park Service, 200
  4. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 247
  5. Forest Service, 260

The U.S. Forest Service, which employs the most federal wildland firefighters, has notified their employees about how the organization fared in 2014, saying “…scores improved overall compared to the 2013 survey and this is encouraging as government wide the average scores decreased slightly.”

Here is a summary of the highs and lows for the USFS this year, according to their memo:

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“General Observations about the survey results:

What we’re proud of:

  • Employees enjoy their job, their coworkers, their supervisors, and work life programs like telework, flexible schedules and child care.
  • Responses are more positive than they were a year ago, which shows we are working to make improvements but there is plenty of work we need to continue to do.
  • Employees believe that they are protected from health and safety hazards and that diversity in the workplace is promoted.
  • Supervisors ROCK! On average, any question that began with “my supervisor…” rated at 70% positive. We need to recognize the good work of supervisors throughout the agency.
  • 63% of employees are satisfied or very satisfied with their job. Consider that in Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace study of over 150,000 people surveyed only 30 percent admitted they honestly enjoy their job and their bosses.

What we need to work on:

  • “Managers” are rated much less favorably than “Supervisors”.
  • “Senior Leaders” score very low in trust, respect, and the ability to motivate employees.
  • Employees are not satisfied with pay, training, or that their talents are well used.
  • There is an urgent need to communicate more effectively with employees about actions taken at the senior management level — the “why” much more than the “what”.
  • Majority of employees feel they do not have enough resources to do their job. One interpretation of this is that it reflects that employees want to do more, because their is valued, important and is something they are proud of.
  • 83% of employees say their supervisor supports work life balance, but only 40% say their workload is reasonable. The public, our communities, are all demanding we increase our stewardship, service and response.  It has always been the case, but with a smaller workforce it is even more challenging.  We need to set priorities and hold ourselves to doing that work.   Here again is an indication of employees thinking the work we do is important.
  • People look at our standing in the survey results and say it reflects “low morale”. From the Chief’s vantage point we get a tremendous amount of work done, safely!  Agencies with low morale don’t do that. Our employees are frustrated—they see so much that we can and should be doing, but we don’t have all the resources to do the work.
  • The lowest ranked questions have a common theme of trusting the organization, feeling that the system is unfair, and employees are not appropriately recognized or empowered.”
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Safety meeting topic: taking calculated risks

Firefighters — at your next safety meeting, here is a topic worthy of discussion: taking calculated risks on a fire.

On October 2, 1943 on the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego 11 people fighting the fire, mostly Marines, were killed on the Hauser Creek Fire.

Below, is the second paragraph from the Recommendations section of the official report on the fatalities. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Hauser Creek Fire

What  do you think about taking “calculated risks”?

Resources:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim.

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Property owners sue over wildfires in Washington and California

Two lawsuits are being threatened over separate wildfires in Washington and California.

Poinsettia Fire

About two dozen landowners are suing a golf course over last summer’s Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California. The lawsuit that was filed in San Diego Superior Court blames Omni La Costa Resort & Spa LLC for the May 14 wildfire that destroyed five homes, 18 apartment units, one commercial building, and 600 acres on May 14 in Carlsbad, California.

As we wrote on October 19, a fire investigator has determined that a golf club striking a rock is one of the possible causes for the fire which started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the resort’s golf course.

Carlton Complex of fires

In central Washington 65 landowners filed tort claims Friday against the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the management of the Carlton Complex of fires.

Below are excerpts from an article at King5:

…”We represent mom and pops, cattle ranchers, apple farmers, (and) business owners,” said Brewster attorney Alex Thomason, who filed the legal paperwork in Olympia.

Even before the smoke from the fires had cleared this summer, complaints from landowners started to echo through the Okanogan region.

“They sat over there in the field and watched and took pictures,” Kim Maltias told KING 5 on July 28.

Thomason says some of his clients believe that DNR allowed the fires to grow bigger so that they would receive more state funding.

“The DNR firefighters call this ‘God money.’ It’s an unlimited amount of resources, so they get access to that money by letting the fire get bigger and bigger,” said Thomason.

The tort claims accuse DNR of negligence for failing to protect the properties from the wildfires.

“In the very beginning, DNR stood by and did nothing. They let this fire grow and grow and grow,” said Thomason.

Thomason says some of his clients believe that DNR allowed the fires to grow bigger so that they would receive more state funding.

“The DNR firefighters call this ‘God money.’ It’s an unlimited amount of resources, so they get access to that money by letting the fire get bigger and bigger,” said Thomason.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Carl.

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USFS seeks applicants for 69 Forest AFMO jobs

The U.S. Forest Service has a vacancy announcement that lists 69 Forest Assistant Fire Management Officer positions they are trying to fill. I’ve never heard of such a large scale announcement for dozens of relatively high-level fire positions. As far as I can tell, they are all GS 11/12 jobs in the Miscellaneous Administration and Program Series, 0301.

An excerpt:

This position is established on a Forest Service unit. The incumbent serves as a Forest Assistant Fire Management Officer (FFMO) responsible for providing leadership and program direction for the unit’s fire and aviation management program. The incumbent is responsible for coordinating the development of short and long-range fire management programs, fire management activities on the unit.

Below is a screen shot of a portion of the announcement.

forest afmo job announcement

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Inversion traps smoke over prescribed fire

Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park

Smoke is trapped by an inversion in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park. NPS helitack photo.

In this photo taken Wednesday, smoke is attempting to break through an inversion over the Mosquito prescribed fire in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park in California.

Normally, as you rise in altitude, the temperature decreases due to the changes in air pressure. In a weather (or temperature) inversion, instead of getting cooler at higher temperatures, it is actually warmer higher up.

weather inversion

Cool air trapped under a warmer layer, creating an inversion. From Fortair.org.

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Time lapse of Norbeck prescribed fire

This time lapse video shot by the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division shows the final portion of the ignition of the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire, as the lines were tied in at the south end of the project on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. The GoPro camera placed on the Rankin Ridge Fire Lookout Tower in Wind Cave National Park was set to record an image every 30 seconds.

The camera is looking west at the intersection of Highway 87 and Rankin Ridge Road (391). Google Maps.

The project was a multiagency effort with state, federal, and local firefighter participation on state, federal, and private land.

More information about the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire.

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