Department of Interior allows waivers of mandatory retirement age for firefighters

The maximum entry age and mandatory retirement age could be raised on a case by case basis for firefighters and law enforcement officers

Hot shot crew Ferguson Fire firefighters
Bear Divide Hot Shots on the Ferguson Fire. Kari Greer photo taken around July 23, 2018.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) has implemented a policy that allows Bureau and Office law enforcement and firefighting chiefs to waive on a case by case basis the maximum entry age and mandatory retirement age for firefighters and law enforcement officers who are covered by the early retirement system. Until the new policy was signed on December 21, 2018 by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke these firefighters were required to retire at age 57 if they had 20 years of covered service and had to begin their service no later than age 37. It is now possible for each of those requirements to be bumped up by three years — to 40 and 60.

The general justification for the change, as stated in Mr. Zinke’s memo, is to “speed up the hiring process”.

Specifically, waivers for the minimum entry age may be granted for those who do not have veterans’ preference if there is a shortage of highly qualified applicants for a specific law enforcement or firefighter position, or if there is a shortage of available candidates in a geographic area.

The mandatory retirement age could be changed to 60 in cases where the continuation of the employee’s services promotes the public interest. One of the examples given was if there is a skill shortage and a qualified replacement is not readily available to replace a highly skilled incumbent who is responsible for a vital program.

In 2001 the maximum entry age and mandatory retirement age were raised by two years, from 35 to 37 and 55 to 57 respectively, for both DOI agencies and the U.S. Forest Service.

“The goal here is to strengthen the ranks of our Forest Service firefighters,” said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth on October 21, 2001. “Increasing the maximum entry age for firefighters will allow us to open the occupation to a wider group of candidates thereby increasing our ability to hire the best, the brightest and the most skilled.”

There are four agencies in the DOI that employ wildland firefighters: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Fish and Wildlife Service. There is one in the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service. All five agencies also have law enforcement officers.

“The Forest Service is aware of DOI’s initiative,” Sandra Lopez, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson told us. “The Forest Service has not made any policy changes at this time and we are reviewing DOI’s initiative.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Doug. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

4 thoughts on “Department of Interior allows waivers of mandatory retirement age for firefighters”

  1. Great news, hopefully the Forest Service will also do the same. We lose a lot of qualified folks not only on the hiring end but also with the mandatory retirement of 57

  2. This is crazy. If the federal wildland firefighting and land management agencies want to attract and KEEP good people.. pay them commensurate with the duties they perform, give them raises for every fire rating (ie: CRWB, DIVS, OPS, IC, etc) much the same as the military does for additional ratings. Stop treating federal employees as second class citizens using them as pawns in the budget game.

    The entry level job in the wildland fire arm of the agencies is a young persons job. 30 something is getting too old to be a grunt on a fire crew, and by mid 50ʻs most are spent physically. The agencies have long been a puppy mill for municipal, county and state agencies that pay much better. Sunsets only go so far explaining to ones kids why you are gone all summer and still canʻt help pay for their college tuition…

  3. Tony’s comments are right-on. But I think he continued to serve as an agency trainer, even after his retirement. No problem there. Apparrently, the agency could not find a trainer of his caliber within the federal govenment ranks. What if Tony had young children (or other reasons to keep working) and wanted to keep working for the government with benefits after age 57?

    Did OPM (which is NOT a DOI agency under Ryan Zinke) approve of DOI’s exceptions to OPM regulations and US code 5 U.S.C. § 8336(c) or § 8412(d)? Did Congress approve this change to the laws? Maybe they did, but that was not in the article. Thanks!

    1. Tony could continue to work after 57, but it has to be a nonfire position…ie resource specialist, administration etc. he can continue to go on fires as needed but his main position can not be a “fire” position

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