Federal firefighter asks for six specific reforms

Firefighters holding Romero SaddleThomas Fire
Firefighters holding Romero Saddle on the Thomas Fire in southern California, December 13, 2017. Photo: Kari Greer for the USFS.

A federal firefighter has drafted a letter to U.S. Senators and Representatives in which they ask for six specific reforms. However, the person, who feels the need to remain anonymous, insists that they not be called firefighter, since the job description applies the label “forestry technician.”

Update August 12, 2020. For some of the statistics mentioned in the letter below, reference "A Quiet Rise in Wildland-Firefighter Suicides", The Atlantic, 2017; and, "Suicide rate among wildland firefighters is 'astronomical' ”, Wildfire Today, 2017.

Here is the letter. At the bottom is a link to sign a petition at Change.org.

To our US Senators and Representatives:

I am a Wildland firefighter with 14 years of experience fighting wildfires across the United States and Alaska with the US Forest Service. I’m writing this letter to open your eyes and to start a dialogue about the mental health crisis that is taking place amongst our firefighting ranks in the US Forest Service.

Wildland firefighters have a 0.3% suicide rate according to Nelda St. Clair of the Bureau of Land Management. This figure is shockingly high compared to the national suicide rate of 0.01%. In 2015 and 2016 a total of 52 Wildland Firefighters took their own lives. Why do wildland firefighters suffer from a 30x rate of suicides compared to the general US population? I detail my personal thoughts that are based on hundreds of conversations with wildland firefighters and my own experience below.

Any US Government official should find it unacceptable to have such high suicide and mental health issues amongst their employees. Unfortunately, little action has been taken by leadership in government to support wildland firefighters, resulting in this predictable and avoidable epidemic.

Wildland firefighters are some of the most driven, motivated and selfless workers. We miss our kids birthdays, friends’ barbecues, aren’t around to help put the kids to bed or make dinner, and this takes a toll on us. This causes us to lose social connections and friendships, to feel distant from our loved ones, and increases our divorce rates because we aren’t present to support our partners.

Throughout my time as a Hotshot and a Smokejumper I have seen people working through multiple injuries such as hiking chainsaws up the hill with a torn ACL, unable to have surgery due to a lack of health insurance, or a financial inability to miss a few fire assignments. The majority of wildland firefighters rely too heavily on overtime and hazard pay making time off financially unfeasible. When an on-the-job injury occurs, our workmans comp insurance is slow to approve claims, often does not authorize payment for doctor recommended care, and then only pays 40% of base pay to recover while away from work. This needs to change.

We often hear from local citizenry, news stations, a governor or senator that we are “Heroes.” I’ve had innumerable conversations with fellow firefighters how disingenuous this feels when many wildland firefighters are temporary employees who do not receive benefits and have an employer that refuses to call them what everybody knows to be true, that we are “WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS,” not forestry technicians.

Our wages lag far behind standard Firefighter wages. We do not receive pay for our increasing workload within an increasingly longer fire season. It is common for us to be running a Division of a fire (typically a job for a GS-11)  while paid as a GS-6, have dozens of resources (personnel and equipment) under our command and be the lowest paid of all of them.

The job is so hazardous and physically difficult that we are supposed to receive the same retirement that the FBI, Law Enforcement, and other Federal Firefighters receive, able to retire after 20-25 years. The difference is that their career starts when they are hired, while our retirement plan doesn’t start until we are hired as a permanent employee, often coming after more than a decade of service as a temporary employee. Hotshot crews are typically staffed with 7 permanent employees and 13 temporary employees, doing some of the most hazardous and strenuous work.

Our overtime is not considered mandatory and therefore not part of our retirement annuity calculation, while other federal employees’ overtime is considered mandatory. This is a laughable premise amongst any wildland firefighter as we often have no say in length of work and are not able to go home after 8 hours of work when we are in the middle of an assignment. We typically work 14-day assignments, sleep on the ground, eat MREs and don’t complain. We are often out of contact with loved ones and thousands of miles from home, but have to fight with office workers tracking our pay to get paid for 16-hour workdays where we work from 6AM until 10PM. Other contracting resources, CAL FIRE, municipal firefighters, and other Federal Firefighters all are paid Portal-to-Portal, 24 -hour days, without the federal government blinking an eye.

As a 14-Year Veteran, I am qualified at the Crew Boss Level with many other advanced qualifications, but I have only accrued a total of 3 years towards retirement and make under $20/hour in an area where the median home price is over $400,000. When I go on an assignment, the babysitter makes more per hour than I do on a fire.

The current wage structure also limits diversity and keeps women and minorities out of firefighting positions. If women have plans to have children, then it is nearly impossible to pursue a career in firefighting because the option to miss a single fire assignment would result in a large percentage of yearly income being lost. People from lower-income demographics are kept out of this field due to the low wages as well. Increasingly I am seeing only privileged, white males able to work in this career with the most stable and supportive family situations. This is a shame as we all suffer when diversity is discouraged.

Why are we hailed as “Heroes” by the media and politicians but paid like second-rate cannon fodder that can be replaced easily?

I’m asking for real reforms from our elected officials:

  1. A psychologist with an office located in the forest headquarters of each national forest who is available to all Forest Service employees for mental health.
  2. A Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) paid leave category is created with 1.5 hours per pay period (roughly 1.25 weeks per year) to take time for mental health.
  3. Cut the crap, We are WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS, not forestry technicians. Compel Land Management agencies to convert all wildland firefighters from GS pay scale to a new pay scale such as WLF. A WLF-6 (currently GS-6) should be paid at $30/hour or $60,000 per year. It took me until my 9th year of fighting wildfires to attain the level of GS-6, so this is not a starting wage.
  4. Eliminate any hiring of GS-3 in Wildland Fire. This wage is insultingly low and not acceptable for the type of risk taken.
  5. After we are called firefighters in our official Position Description, end Hazard Pay. Our jobs are inherently hazardous, and our lives should not be valued based on our pay rate as is the current practice.
  6. Eliminate Temporary Positions for any firefighter returning for their second year. If they are worth bringing back for a second season then they are worth paying benefits and allowing to contribute to their retirement plan.

This is a simple list of requests that can be done now. This job is already so stressful as evidenced and explained above. Firefighters and their families need some relief from the biggest stress currently, which is financial stress. Increasing wages will save firefighter lives, I have no doubt. It will also preserve a middle class job from sinking into the poverty level.

My final request goes out to the countless US citizens who have relied on us to save their communities, homes, favorite forested areas and to the media organizations that have used us to write compelling stories and report on some incredibly dramatic events:

Please stop referring to us as wildland firefighters. We are currently “forestry technicians” as described by the federal government position description and your reporting should reflect that reality. Don’t call us “Heroes” either because when divorces, mental health problems and declining wages are the reality, we don’t feel like heroes at all.

Thank you for your time and understanding.

(The author has also posted this on Change. org. Sign the petition there if you are so inclined.)

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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.

135 thoughts on “Federal firefighter asks for six specific reforms”

  1. I feel that the wages are super low and the health benefits don’t add up to what federal forestry technicians go through. People can work 10-15 years for firefighters pension and get hurt and not be able to finish out there 20 and get screwed out of it>? Not cool, or get cancer from the sun or all that great smoke we breathe in all the time and what not even be able to claim disability because you’re not classified as a firefighter. But hey look at how the government has treated the 911 guys (not much better I guess)

    However I don’t agree with the Privileged white guy comment. If this job is what you want work hard and put in the effort. My first year as a seasonal I rode a greyhound bus 22 hours to a depot and took a taxi to the bunkhouse. However the women wanting kids totally true

  2. Very well spoken article, it hurt my heart to read it! Old Italian saying “ the fish always stinks from the Head not the tail”…….. and I have been part of that tail for 23 years, while more upper management positions keep getting created, and the pay for firefighters stays idle, at poverty levels.

  3. I get it but I don’t support 192 psychologists, one for every forest headquarters. That would create a nightmare from which there is no waking.

  4. I agree 100 0/0 I retiered from the FS 12 yrs ago and we had the same questions then as they do now. The biggest one is portal to portal . If the FS can pay it to CDF on fires the why not us ?

  5. What about decentralizing HR? ALBQ is nothing short of “looks good on paper but just doesn’t work.” It was such a mess that they couldn’t retain employees for more than 3 weeks before they quit last year. Not only would FireHire hopefully improve (I don’t know if that one can be saved), but OWCP cases managers at a regional level would be nothing but beneficial.

  6. This was well said. Now we have to get it out to the people who can make the changes. It will take time to get the government to make the necessary changes, but with persistence, it can be done, just as the government is starting to do with us Vietnam Vets.
    The government has all ways been willing to spend the money to put us in harms way, but not willing to spend the money to take care of us after they have put us in harms way.

  7. So what’s your solution? Why would providing employees with a clearly needed resource “create a nightmare from which there is no waking”?

    Even with 1 per forest that person can probably stay pretty busy. I could see adjusting it to one per X number of fire/LEO resources so smaller forests might share a psychologist and larger forests would have more than one.

  8. Well said, well written and “should” be clear to any politician. This letter should be sent to all major newspapers in the Western U.S. as well as the Washington Post and NY Times. I’m signing the petition.

  9. There are some good points to this but it lost all credibility when it made race and gender a thing. I know plenty of females who have kids who are full time permanent. As for the “white privileged male” comment, this is totally BS and if you think the wages are to low McDonald’s is always hiring.

  10. “ if you think the wages are to low McDonald’s is always hiring”

    I have heard comments like this before and always get a kick out of it. Is that how you value yourself, your crew, or your employees if you’re a supervisor?

    The agencies all expect the picture of professionalism (and often get it, especially on incident) but are happy to let their “professionals” get paid like people flipping burgers at a fast food joint.

    The fact that you can joke about someone quitting and settling for McDonald’s is made that much funnier when you realize doing so would be a wise financial move for employees of some districts and regions.

    If you treat your people like professionals they will be, and if you don’t a bunch of them will be right up till they take a job that pays twice as much for half the responsibility and work.

  11. I think it was in reference to the fact that the federal agencies were historically and still currently male-dominated, misogynistic workplaces. And that recruitment in general, but most particularly of minority groups is at an all time low. Let us not forget Tony Tooke or the PBS documentary and how those instances simply created an additional AgLearn training instead of real change.

    When McDonald’s pays better entry-level wages than federal agencies that expose employees way higher levels of risk, there’s a problem.

  12. You lost me with white privileged males “With the most supportive family situations.” Don’t we want supportive families while doing this challenging job, that in turn can help us with the mental crisis at hand? We should be striving for strong families, yes Big Brother could do a better job to help us in more family time, RR, etc. but at the end of the day we all get to choose, let’s stop blaming others and take responsibility for our own actions and choices…Seems like this article is a little too political for a wildland Fire website.

  13. Six years in and still at a FFT1/ICT5 level. On that wage through private contracting companies I can barely afford to survive. Many wildland firefighters are actually homeless. They come from all over trying to make a life with no life

  14. I’d be willing to bet every commenter who complained about the “priveleged white males” comment, which was only one small aspect of the overall letter, are in fact, priveleged white males (full disclosure, I’m one and I don’t harbor any doubt that it contributed to my career in forestry).

    That said, the only way this gets changed is when the feds can’t find enough folks who are willing to do the work under those conditions. It’s what led me to leave the Forest Service back in the early 80’s — when trying to get on permanent as a white male in the USFS was difficult and only term appointments without benefits were available — for grad school and academia.

    Given the passion most wildland firefighters have for the job it won’t be easy to give it up and do something else. You could go to a different agency that treats firefighters as professionals (e.g. CalFire) or go privateer and become a contractor and set your own conditions. Alternatively you could form or join a union and engage in collective barganing and that last recommendation comes from someone who doesn’t really care much for unions. But they will keep taking advantage of seasonal fire personnel as longs as they can get away with it. Policitians are reluctant to deal with it because it will cost money and natural resource management has always been low on the budgetary priority list.

  15. This June I spent 2 weeks trying to hire permanent fire employees. We had 8 openings and could only full 5. We are not a super desirable location, but we’re also not Ely, NV. By the end, anyone responding to my calls was getting a job. Any candidates on hotshot crews, rappel crews, or jumpers were not interested. I spent enough time on shot crews and know enough jumpers to know that they weren’t going to leave. Most on those crews have chosen that life and would accept a permanent where they are at, but no where else. The “white privilege” comment to me is more relevant to those crews. It’s difficult to pass up permanent positions elsewhere and ski all winter unless you have a family to support you.
    I do agree with an earlier commenter, we should not be paying GS-3 wages. Where I am at that is less than McDonalds, and they don’t ask them to work weekends all summer.

  16. In lots of areas (mine included) kids are making more per hour at food service than a GS-3 without all the heartache that comes from the work and not needing to front $400 for boots.

  17. Dang, 90% of Australians Firefighters are volunteers! Maybe we should sign a petition for those guys? Seems deserving.

  18. This is why people go on strike. However, the type of folks who do this work tend to not be the type to strike..

  19. Your article put a lump in my throat. I dont know anything about the forest service except for what I have witnessed on campaign fires. I have worked along side of you men and women, and all I can say is Bad Ass ! Screw that comment about you folks being forest technicians, you all are Firefighters and you do the same job as any other smoke eater, your actions save lives and property for that you deserve the same benefits and compariable pay, and the same schedule, 24 hour shifts like all the other agencies are working on incidents. Last but not least mental health, the forest service should have assistance available 24 /7. Perhaps some peer counselors that can be available out on the line or in base camp. Good luck to you, and your brothers and sisters, and stay safe. R76

  20. Dear person who wrote this letter,

    Good job. At first I thought maybe General Sherman wrote it because all the fire you laid down. You were cutting loose with heaters like William Munny in Greely’s Saloon or Buford Mad Dog Tannen on the streets of 1885 Hill Valley.

    I agree with everything you said. It appears you and I aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Good call on each forest needing a psychologist. The LAPD in Lethal Weapon had one and she helped out Riggs and Murtaugh. No reason us forestry technicians shouldn’t enjoy the same much-needed services.

    I resigned the other day after a quick 17 years of forestry tech-ing. Gee whiz, what should I do with my new free time in the summer? I guess I’ll just have to go fishing and not get poison oak. Bummer.


  21. Very well said. I have been in for 20 seasons, 16 of those as a perm in Region 5 and I agree with most of what was said.

    There is one thing I would like to add to this list. When a “Forestry Tech” is injured and no longer able to perform his/her duties in a primary fire position, due to no fault of their own, that individual is no longer entitled to the fire retirement they have paid into for X amount of years. The only way they can keep that retirement, is if they secured it with 20 permanent years of service prior to their injury.

    There are many in service today that continue to work with limited abilities due to this loop hole. Many were injured late in there careers and cannot afford to forfeit something they have spent half their lives working for.

  22. These are some valid issues with the job, which as the author points out, can be life-changing in a not positive way. The solutions offered are a tough sell and not that feasible in most cases, for reasons other than just money. I hear rants and solutions like these on a regular basis. (I speak or write similar in private settings too, so I’m not judging.) I am not one who usually makes sales pitches for Union membership, as I usually have the take that they should sell themselves. I just want to say that they are very helpful for navigating complicated political matters. While speaking your truths to power as this writer has, are an important part of progress. You ultimately need some political prowess and a bit of muscle to nudge things over the hill. We can all give examples and horror stories of OWCP gone wrong. Knowing how exactly it needs to be fixed and where to start that process is complex. Please consider supporting your Unions. Hoby Miller – NFFE Fire Rep.

  23. Yes this touch TOUCHED MY HEART I GOTTA GO THE SMELL AND SMOKE ARE NOT WELL IN MY TOWN THE FLAMES ARE HEADED RIGHT FOR MY HOME TOWN THAT!! 6GENERATIONS of my family have lived here ,ALONG WTH MYSELF !i pray to whoever HAS POWER GIVE THESE MEN AND WOMAN THAT SEE HELL ON FIRE AND RUN TOWARDS IT, jump through it jusST TO SAVE OUR LAND AND OUR LIFES/Homes material things !!!Please grant this and please be safe and thank You for all your hard work!!! pioneertown and Joshua tree/yucca valley morongo!AND THE REST OF THE WORLD

  24. I was a Wildland Firefighter and fully understand your comments. I agree with your requests because it is the most dangerous job in the world during fire season. I urge legislative people pay attention to this situation and do the right thing for the women and men who put thier lives on the line day in and day out.

  25. Isn’t there a group working on changing up the typical work schedule of 14 days on/ 2 off? Doing that all summer definitely takes a physical/mental toll given the long Fire seasons these days. Seems like change even there could have a big impact to help combat some of the things mentioned in the article. 14 on (portal style) and 7 off, or 10 and 3…Something needs to change

  26. I like what you said but sadly nothing will ever happen. We repeat history over and over, with no change. I have seen a version of this letter show up through the last 20 years, while it’s great to read and motivate the reader, it has little effect on the people who make decisions. Even when our folks are suffering mentally or die in the line of duty, still nothing changes. We have had many smart, talented and motivated people draft new pay scales and new policies to improve our situation, and yet nothing happens. The ground work has been done over, and over again, by people who don’t get paid for it, and what we ultimately see, is their exiting from the agency due to burn out and to find a better life. We all say we love this job, I tell myself everyday, I never did this job for the money, but when you are a leader of young people it’s your job to provide the best possible work environment for them, and right now it is very hard to do. We need the people in charge to admit first, that they need a federal firefighting Agency, They need to recognize our value. Then, we need to start over by putting the right people in charge, made of experienced fire folks, who can say “this is what it should look like” and then work backwards with political leadership to apply all the things that we can to have a healthy workforce. Lastly, we have it managed by legitimate fire people! This is very important, and must be Paramount. We will see how the next few years play out, but it’s my suspicion that it will be a worse off situation then the one we are currently in. I would love for someone to tell me I’m wrong , but When you get a look behind the curtain, you will know what I mean. Remember, what we value, is not what they value.

  27. My son has work for 4 years as a seasonal with BLM, he just got hired a couple of months ago full time. He’s working his butt off right now in Nevada. I retired after 32 years with Orange County Fire Authority in Southern California and I think the pay and the conditions should be Criminal for the amount of work that he and all of the other men and women do for BLM. I’m embarrassed to tell you what I was paid and my retirement compared to him and it needs to change. He deserves comprable pay but even without comprable pay, his pay and retirement need to increase dramatically. What in the hell would the country do without these men and women, what if they went on strike or just walked away. If something doesn’t change, I would like to see that happen, there are other jobs. A disgusted father

  28. Thank you for writing this I’m not federal I’m a firefighter for the state of florida I really hope this will change for you folks you are truly the bad boys of the bunch

  29. Very well said. I did 3 years on a call crew out of Angeles NF. Then went to BLM working as a dozer swamper, lead firefighter on a type 3 and operator on a type 4. I hung up my boots after getting Valley Fever on a fire. I loved working wildland and being outdoors. But I had to get a better paying job with benefits for my young family at the time.

    Sadly the pay doesn’t match what we do. The years of working seasonal working to get a permanent position takes a toll. With minimum wage hitting $15 an hour the pay for wildland fire should be starting there if not $20. At 23 years old I was responsible for operating at $100,000 plus piece of equipment.

    I always back the wildland crews I see working now. I will back an measure to bump their pay because I know hiking hills ain’t easy.

  30. This letter contradicted itself on so many levels. Honestly letter felt like entitlement and someone playing the victim.. Talk to all the government employees that don’t work in fire but are able to make a livable wage as a GS 5 or 7. Can they afford new cars and nice homes? Nope. But if that is what makes you happy then find a line of work that you can make that kind of money in. Also, I worked for years as a non-fire specialist and was great at my trade. Didn’t complain once that my category was “Forestry Technician” but was known as a timber cruiser.

  31. A lot to think about here for sure, but mostly it seems pertinent to R5 and other extremely expensive duty stations across the west. I can’t see how the pay situation is sustainable for recruitment and retention when folks can bail to Calfire or a municipality and make double or more. Is the Forest Service just a farm team for them now? But I will point out the situation is the exact opposite in other states. In the South the state workers are paid less than the feds and the
    US Forest Service jobs are the most desirable. Have you seen what a Florida Forest Service working for the state makes starting out? I think it’s less than 30k. Finally to another point I don’t think handcrew work really is that valued, especially in R5. I mean when inmates are the primary workforce for Calfire that tells you something. It seems they are only forming handcrews with their agency personnel now because there is a shortage of suitable prisoners. Oh and lastly , yeah the suicide rate needs a hard look and some sort of firm action.

  32. Im glad someone is willing to step up and speak there mind like this. I fought wildfires for over 7 years and loved it, but had to leave for another fire job because i simply couldn’t survive on the pay we were getting. Its stressful knowing you will be laid off and have to find work through the winter to support a family. Depression hits so hard going from 100mph to nothing when they come to you and say your season is ending in a week… I wish we could have wildland firefighters employed year round and serve multiple purposes. I also wish we would go under the title of firefighter and not technician. I was at a cafe rio and they told me that they only give the discount to “real firefighters”. Showed me how much they care. I of course payed what i needed to and didnt fuss, but it hurt knowing that people think that way.

  33. In order to move up in pay wages….you would have to kiss someone ???…and the ones that r gs 6, 7dont want to give up there position….30 some years of fighting fires. Turned to AD.

  34. While I agree that there needs to be drastic changes through out the fire services, the author last cred when writing only privileged white males want the crappy job as a forest techy. Give me a break.There’s a hell of a lot of low income folks that have gone into wildland fire, and will continue to do so. In some areas, it’s still considered a good job. Anyone can do it w a little determination. Way to join the ranks of mentally lazy narratives.

  35. My name is James Telford but everyone calls me Chin. Now what I’m about to say on here is not to give myself attention or anything like that at all. It was just my reality of my life for awhile in this line of work and since were bring up all these good points and things we need to change I’m willing to talk about it. This job has saved my life and has also almost taken it. When I first started working in this job I had found my new home and family I never knew I had. I have been doing this for 11 years now. I still love all my fellow firefighters like family no matter what. But stress from this job took me down some dark roads as well couple years ago. Long winters of not knowing what to do. Feeling hopeless about having a normal life and family of my own because this job is all I had. I have had struggle with drug addiction and being homeless in the off-season at times and tried to take my life one winter because I didn’t see a way out and my frequency was so low. In debt over my head and failed relation after relation ship because being gone all the time. I am so grateful I am still here and I still have this job. It has saved my life but also almost taken it. Please consider this reform. I am stronger mentally from all this but still worried about having a normally life and keeping the relationship I have right now with the woman I love. I will leave this job if I have to for her but where am I to go after investing all this time and energy into fire fighting. I love this job so much because of the great people in it but it’s time to take better care of all of us. I am here for any of you. Please call me for anything. 2088816220. Be safe out there and realize your mental health is never worth losing over this job or your love ones. No one will blame you for having to leave. I Love all of you. Chin.

  36. We are forestry technicians when we are alive but called firefighters when we die. Sigh…

  37. Do these other government employees you speak of spend 5-10 years of their career as a seasonal gs-3, 4 or 5 trying to get a permanent job? No. Almost all other non-fire government jobs start at least at the GS-5 level and career advancement comes MUCH quicker. Are they expected to leave at the drop of a hat and spend months away from home during half or more of the year? Your role as a timber cruiser is exactly who should be called “forestry technician” it’s a forestry job, so that doesn’t even compare! One of the only forestry-related things most federal firefighters do for most of the year is work in the woods, everything else is exactly the same as firefighters. Do you honestly think it’s ok for the government to pay its firefighters less than minimum wage and not take care of them when they have health issues related to the job? Stop playing the tough guy and taking a jab at people who sacrifice so much for their job.

  38. I would never tell any Forest Service psychologist anything. It would definitely leak to your immediate supervisor, who would then use it to try to get you fired. Confidentially, mental illness, and workplace injuries were treated horrifically at all 3 national forests I worked at. This would be nothing different.

  39. I think the title Forestry Technician is applicable for Timber Cruisers. Lot less risk and hazards when it comes to appraising timber

  40. I served seasonally from 80-86 with the USFS, & BLM. This is LONG over due.. This will be a political battle of biblical proportions. Just ask the survivors of the Granite Mtn 19. And that is at the municipal and state level. It’s gonna be a battle of attrition that will likely go on to the next gen WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER! Dont quit, Don’t Back off, take the message to their door every day, week, and year till you get your due…. Semper Phi

  41. Yeah Jaimee, you were right not to complain about your category being Forestry Technician because that’s what you were if you were working in timber. If you combine the definition of forestry with the definition of technician it accurately describes the position of a timber employee.

    How many times during your timber cruising operations did you run for your life and hunker down in a small meadow as all the timber you were cruising for was nuking out all around you? Then five years later you woke up screaming in the middle of the night because you were having a recurring nightmare about timber cruising? None? Right on. But cool story about not complaining.

  42. I talked to a National Guard Chaplain once about some of the Issues firefighters face. He said the the military has the stuff but the soldier feels more comfortable with a Chaplin than a psychologist. He said he would help arrange help because he was trusted. So I am not in favor of hiring psychologists but maybe a chaplain type of position. Chaplins are not just priests.

    What ever happen to the Idea of the seasonal workers after 1988 being able to buy into their retirement when they get permanent positions.

  43. The suicide statistics are not correct by a long shot and Nelda St. Clair hasn’t worked for BLM for more than a year now.

  44. The suicide statistics are very incorrect. Also, the federal agencies have been asking for a specific wildland firefighter series for years and years; it is OPM that must make this change. The federal agencies would also love to change the seasonal nature of wildland firefighting and convert all seasonals to permanent or career-seasonal employees as well, but again, congress must provide the budget for this and in recent years, congress has either cut the budget or it has remained flat/barely risen enough to maintain suppression costs and keep up with inflation. As much as I agree with much of this letter, the author should do his research before he starts petitions and points his finger in the wrong direction.

  45. The problem is: there aren’t any accurate wildland firefighter suicide statistics. This is because suicides often occur during non work hours, and in some cases, families do not want to report a suicide. The federal wildland fire agencies have no way of tallying suicides because of these reasons: they can’t keep statistics on incidents that occur outside of work hours. If they were line of duty deaths, sure, but sadly, these statistics are largely summarized and inaccurate.

  46. That documentary was a few out of 10s of thousands of firefighters over the years. Having worked with one of the people in that documentary I would say at least one of those stories was totally lacking in credibility. Not saying it doesnt happen, but it’s a rarity not the norm and happens in any blue collar profession. As far as the misogynist comment. Of course it’s going to be male dominated, like any manual labor oriented industry. It’s a fact of life based on physiological differences and the fact that more men are willing to do this kind of filthy work. Facts are facts. Totally agree on the recruiting, but when you can make 4000k a month on unemployment in California, why would you do our job?!

  47. I think the point is that you can’t build a big supportive family with this job as the foundation. You have to come into this job and already have a big supportive family or have enough help to be able to afford to work in this job.

  48. The letter just states there is an office available to a psychologist. Not a full-time employee but a space where people can meet with a mental health professional.

  49. And we all miss you on the Lassen! Especially the next time Randy Moore comes to town or when we have a All hands meeting talking about the PBS special lol.

  50. And we all miss you on the Lassen! Especially the next time Randy Moore comes to town or when we have a All hands meeting talking about the PBS special lol.

  51. The finger is pointed in the right general direction. The agency is on the verge of imploding. It has been for years. Putting the ball in OPM’s court is despite the point and disregards the fact that change starts right here at the source.

  52. At the end of the day, this petition has been a catalyst for discussions that are long overdue. The thought that federal land management agencies have employee’s best interests in mind is a fallacy. Job well done to the author.

  53. I had a career as a Municipal Firefighter out west.I did not have any idea of Wildland Firefighters situation even after having worked with several after they came over to the municipal side. A lot of interesting points have been made. Please find a way to spread the information !! I found this article by accident and definitely see the need for the points to be addressed!!!! (Married to a Dr. in Clinical Psychology and have seen the amazing job she has done on wildland and structural Critical Incidents. (CISM.)

  54. My dad put in 20 years with OCFD and had to retire out with blown disk, worn out Knees and a ticker that needed a surgery every 5 years. He died at 66, in 2012 of heart failure after his second open heart surgery, went south. It’s pretty upside down what these federal guys have to go through. I grew up watching the Hot Shots of El Cariso be a bunch of badasses every fire season. And remember those guys having to rehire in as temps every year. That was 30 years ago. They disband the El Cariso Hotshots about 5 years back, no one wanted to hire in there, they couldn’t keep the minimum number of Crew Bosses on and it pretty much imploded. Ya think proper pay, benefits and longterm retirement and healthcare had anything to do with it? It’s like a valuable piece of equipment, it only last as long as it’s maintainenced and taken care of, the same should be done with the men and women who perform these roles day in and day out, if they have the right compensation and basic assets of care it’s going to be a much better functioning Organization. Only road I can see to improvement is motivation of local house of reps in Congress to help push for this. They love the response when their areas burning down by mutual federal, state and county aid, they need to reciprocate by pushing for legislation that creates competitive wages and benefits at the federal level. Only way it will happen, doubt it will every happen internally due to USDA’s minimal take of the overall yearly federal budget. As for your son, let him get his experience and then tell him to get his Class A license work heavy equipment and lowboys in the off season and strive to be a dozer operator, that’d be my path if I had it to do over again. I heard they didn’t even get enough qualified candidates in on of the last CDF dozer academy which is crazy but the required hours on lowboy driving and D6 plus operation is pretty high for entry level. I think OCFD has 2 dozers and 2-4 permanent operators so that’s a narrow window there.

  55. I can only say “Thank God We have people like these brave souls to protect us”

  56. You are high if you think someone has to kill the selves on the fire line to be tallied as a suicide statistic. I fought a brutal season in 2015 and dove straight into a bottle of whiskey by the end of it. I almost killed myself with booze in the off season due to the overwhelming stress but if I did this it wouldn’t count because I wasn’t clocked in? Luckily I found help, quit drinking, and found a decent therapist (no thanks to USFS) and am able to continue working. But don’t downplay these statistics when I’ve personally seen and experienced the downturn that can take place after enough near death experiences, relationship problems, bad leadership, and agency neglect. I’m honestly surprised it’s not worse.

  57. You’re gonna sit there and tell me that $450,000 in failed retardant drops in one afternoon in Nevada is worth it but taking care of the men and women in the ground is unfeasible? That’s an atrocious misguided way of thinking and I find the budget argument insulting. There is already enough money in the budget to adhere to these changes. It just needs to be prioritized correctly.

  58. So $450,000 of failed retardant drops in one afternoon in Nevada is in the budget but the well being of the men and women on the ground isn’t even worth discussing? I find the budget argument insulting and anyone who has been in this job long enough is well aware of these hypocrisies.

  59. I’m not sure who pays attention to the situation but beyond all of our gripes the holes in our organizations are showing themselves. The inability to staff engines, crews and all functions of the Wildland fire organizations are becoming a real problem. OPM, congress and others may turn a blind eye, but when the public finds out we are operating way below full capacity because we can’t hire “professionals” to do the job, they may begin to listen…Oregon blm on the east side has about 10 unfilled engine captain positions alone. Who’s picking up that slack?

  60. Bailing to cal-fire or a municipality is not gonna happen for a majority of “forestry technicians “. Neither of them have positions enuph to fill. Making an already competitive field into a warzone or worse a backstabbing bunch of boot licking pansies pointing fingers at other firefighters er.. Forest techs. To score with the boss. Is not going to help anything. The majority of cal fire are seasonal as well.
    By the way the correct tittle is not inmate. It’s convict volunteer type-1 wildland Fire-fighter. They make 1 dollar an HR. To risk there butts, sweat, bleed an burn with the rest. They don’t see there family’s for years at a time. Train 365 a year. They serve under cal fire captains who are eager to make a name in the career and to incident command are the most expendable.So they hook line into the hottest spots can be found. When there shift is done(if they don’t just sleep on the fire line, chainsaw for a pillow) they have to crowd into a hot as hell tent where they spend all there down time being looked down upon by hypocrits. Yes hypocrits. They can’t be convicted of violent crime to volunteer. D. U. I, 2nd degree burglary( shoplifting) possession of drugs( even weed) getting behind on child support. That’s why there there. Well that and to save people’s homes and lives, I don’t know to many people who haven’t committed a crime that could land them in prison if they were unlucky enuph to get cought. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t volunteer for the one of the hardest jobs out there and risk there lives for strangers for a dollar.

  61. Thanks Brian. I’ll still be around in The Ville. If life gets normal in the next year or two come meet me at Arnold Field for a Grizz Game. I’ll buy you a tri-tip sammy and tell you all about the time we beat Corning in the fall of 2000 on a last second Hail Mary…I wish I could go back in time.

  62. I totally agree. The whole “why don’t you go elsewhere for more money” thing is really annoying because the person making that argument agrees that somebody has to do that job. It’s the federal government. They can afford to pay people appropriately for the absurd hours and risk taken on. Poor pay means poor retention.

    And a lot of people in the comments disagree with the author’s idea that privileged people are more able to deal with the low wages, but I’ve experienced what the author has. People from poor backgrounds leave this job when money becomes an issue. I see mostly upper middle class people stay in this line of work because they have that family safety net

  63. Yes, they’re very hard to accurately keep track, but from personal experience it seems awfully high to me. And sure the author seems to have cherry picked two high years and called it an average, but for any two year period to be something like 30x the national average is wild and completely unacceptable

  64. Unless the job has just become to much for you , I look forward to leaping you this summer if your still a Hotshot, Jumper, Forestry Technician, Wildland Firefighter if you actually are one of any of these?
    Absolutely refuse to sign your bias poorly written complaint. Best of health and success for you which is not as a forestry technician, wildland firefighter, hero, jumper or a hotshot.

  65. You may need to speak with one of the professionals this author is advocating for you to have access.

  66. If YOU’RE going to call somebody’s letter poorly written, you should first learn the difference between YOUR, the possessive pronoun and YOU’RE, the contraction for you are. You know, like the rest of us were taught in 2nd grade.

    There’s also a few versions of “to” you might want to look into. Too, an adverb meaning also. (The one you should have used) Two, a number that follows one. And to, a preposition with a few meanings, such as until or toward.

    If you don’t want to go back to 2nd grade to learn this stuff, there’s plenty of websites that will automatically correct YOUR writing. So next time you insult somebody else’s writing, a person like me won’t point out why YOUR writing is bagger.

    P.S. You spelled YOUR name wrong. It’s privileged.

  67. I believe the point being made is that only someone with some money behind him or her can afford to be a Firefighter. With low wages and few benefits I have no idea why someone would risk their life in the service of people they have never met. What would we do without them. With climate changing rapidly they will be called on many times. Now it is time to pay them.

  68. Yes! Time to pay them, time to provide mental heath for them, time to acknowledge what they actually do.

  69. I started out 1992 as a GS 3 with no hopes of getting a permanent position with the agency and the district I was at. All those prominent positions went to the folks that were at the Santa Barbara office or on the coast side but we still worked hard got up every day doug the dirt, dropped the trees and learned. Back then it was the dream job and a good starting point for me and for many others some stuck around some moved off some died. It was some of the best times of my life the thrill not knowing were you gonna be from day-to-day or what you would see or be doing but the pay matched with The times. Wildland has always been put in the box during the winter and brou brought out shining during the summer. People don’t realize it’s a year round job when you’re not fighting fire those employees should be kept on to do the thinning. Their highly trained, highly motivated and can make decisions on their own. That is what this nation needs theses are right people to be doing it. It’s no better now that I am on the federal side as a firefighter I work for a centralized command full of incompetent supervisors that are too scared to make any decisions or to stake themselves on anything because they want to promote up. So yes the pay is better but or moral is shot and they just want mindless drones that follow every order without any thought. So it doesnt get any better guys on the blue side. From an old hot shot to the rest of you I loved the forest Service I loved my time there but the way they treat you is wrong. My best advice is to move off into other fire departments, get your paramedic, it’s only way that you can be able to support a family. I am truely sorry for that bit of truth, maybe when everyone leaves they will get their act together.

  70. ACE, I appreciate you supporting my campaign. However, I actually made a grammar error in that comment while I was being a Grammar Karen. I feel like this mistake makes me unqualified to be President of The United States and I’m officially dropping out of the race as well as this comment thread.

    Also, thanks for having me as a groomsman in your wedding. Man, Kevin was so wasted.

  71. I read the entire article. I had no idea of the situation. Yes, you deserve better. I support your efforts to be recognized for the service you provide, for the danger you face, and the compensation you deserve. You are hero’s and have earned the respect of the public, now the public needs to compensate you for your skill, and bravery.

  72. Why do you feel those positions would cause a nightmare? Isn’t the nightmare losing a fellow firefighter to suicide? Watching his/her family go through anguish and hell because his/her spouse took their own life over the pressures, long hours, little pay, inability to pay bills, and most of all missing out on all family events due to the job? This is my life! I am a widow to a hot shot captain that took his life this past November. This is a true problem and it needs to be fixed. The system is broken. I tried calling the EAP program directly after my husbands death to get my son help because he blamed himself and wanted to kill himself and they could only provide me with an appointment a month out! This is wrong. We need those psychologist on board to help with the firefighters and families!

  73. These individuals are vitally important to the welfare of our country and should be treated as such.

  74. Does anyone know who the author is and to whom this petition will be addressed? As a federal “Forestry Technician” myself I agree with much of what the author is saying, but how do we get these concerns in front of someone who actually has the power to act? Many changes need to be made from decentralizing Albuquerque, removing the Hazard Pay incentive, paying career firefighters fairly for the everyday risks they assume, and improving mental health – but who has the authority to do this? Should this petition be sent to every senator and congressman? Or straight to big Donny himself? What’s the next step?

  75. Yeah John,

    Sometimes things get a little sporty when I get on scene. I’ve been trying to tame things down now that I’ve gotten into my nineties, but once I wet my whistle with few grapefruit La Croix there’s no telling what I’ll say. Especially when some flapdoodler starts in with some humbuggerish horsefeathers on the comment thread.

    Old Burt here has been banned from commenting on a quite a few internationally known publications such as The Lassen County Times and The Tecmo Super Bowl Digest. Glad to see Wildfire Today can handle my chutzpah.

    Okay, now I’m really done commenting. Until somebody says something cool or lame. Then I’ll chime in.

    Later John.


  76. After having read the article and the comments to date I decided to offer a few observations. I went on my first fire in the late 1970’s. I enjoyed the hard work line building and firefighting and decided to work on continuing to gain experience and qualifications throughout my federal career. I am still involved in wildland firefighting as a federal temporary employee referred to as a “casual hire”. I am considered an “Emergency Worker” and my pay is “Administratively Determined”. I’m otherwise known as a “Single Resource Casual Hire”. As such I’m “volunteering” to go on fire assignments.

    I currently spend quite a bit of time on the fireline and in firefighting aircraft and might be be considered a “firefighter” (at least by the media) if I died while on a fire assignment. I would not be considered a “firefighter” by my hiring agency (federal government). I do what I do because I’m okay with that.

    I spent summers for decades making myself available for fire assignments voluntarily. It was a choice I made in order to experience adventure, receive a feeling of accomplishment, provide service to others, and earn extra spending money. All my assignments in the 1970’s and 80’s were spent sleeping on the ground in the open. The federal government did not provide tents. I understood that the hardship did not qualify me for any special benefits. Throughout my career I understood that I would not be considered qualified for “fire retirement” (20 years of service at 50 or 25 years of service at any age) or other benefits federal “Forestry Technicians” are qualified to receive. I did it anyway.

    I have been on multiple fatality fires, had children with emotional and other problems that prevented me from taking fire assignments, and suffered other forms of trauma. I consulted with others when I needed emotional help and I believe all employees should be offered support through their agency.

    I am not required to respond immediately to initial attack like some “Forestry Technicians” are required to do in order to keep their jobs. I’m not writing now to offer an opinion as to the author’s motivations for staying in the position he or she is in but I will observe that we all possess free will. He or she is essentially a “volunteer”. What we do with our lives is determined by ourselves rather than the federal government. There are many inequalities in life. If the author takes action that results in achieving his or her goal I’m sure it will be considered a worthy achievement and might bring the federal government pay and policies in line with other institutions. I believe the federal government is losing good talent to other agencies offering better pay and benefits. That was the case in the 1970’s too.

  77. R1expat,

    I’ll share a cold pamplemousse with you anytime you old curly wolf.

    Meet me at Wiggin’s Trading Post in Chilcoot at high noon tomorrow. Tie your horse to the hitching rail and come on in. I’ll buy the La Croix. Aw shucks, I’ll even go Curly Bill style and buy one for the anonymous author of this here letter, one for Wild Bill Gabbert, and one for all the perspicacious commenters on this thread who’ve been chewing the fat on this very important topic.

    Aw shoot, old Burt ain’t gonna bogart nobody out of a frosty pamplemousse. I’ll even buy some for the tender-footed whippersnappers who’ve been naysaying in their comments. Them folks don’t mean no harm with their caterwauling. They’s just got bees in their bonnets and need their horns clipped every now and then. I reckon I can be a little flannel-mouthed myself when I get all roostered up on the brown water. I’m sure I’m due for a good plow cleaning as well.

    Alright, well… go get you some shut-eye R1expat, and I’ll be seeing ya tomorrow at Wiggin’s.

  78. Roland, Bingo! I was on the Klondike Fire in 2018 and the Florida Red Team was bragging about spraying Phos Check Retardant off the roads to prep for the fire coming. They were spending over $100k/day spraying this stuff from their Phos Check Branded tanker trucks. Well any idiot could drive by and see that spraying $100k/day 10 feet off the road would be ineffective if a Type-1 Fire with some wind behind it happened to send an ember, I don’t know, 20 feet beyond the road after the retardant had dried for a couple weeks before the fire made it there. They were also spraying the sand/rock road cut cliffs about 15 feet high on a 45 foot vertical cliff above the road. They did this for weeks and days on end, threw retardant from VLATs on ridges that never burned and didn’t tie the retardant line into anything.

    The Florida Red team was bragging about this the whole time, which was unbelievable to us. They tried to cut down our hours and take away Hazard pay for people working in the contingency division with heavy equipment….

    But no money to pay Forestry Technicians a living wage… It’s all a bunch of BS

  79. Stop it. Not here to criticize spelling but t listen and solve a huge problem. I have watched this happen for over 20 years and every word of it is true, plus some. And, their health benefits are horrible as well.

  80. and GS6 Division supervisors are not the norm. The point being though as a GS-7 I had GS-13 District Rangers working under my supervision at times on fires. They were way over paid.

  81. Very well stated. Experience is falling to the wayside with attrition via retirement and accelerated promotions to fill the gaps. My 1st fire season was in 1971. The average age of a crew supervisor was 35+ years. I heard the horror stories from just 2 years earlier. You received your base pay for 8 hours then you were required to stay for 2 more hours at 25% of your base. No typo. 25 percent of your base. You worked 10 hours for 8.5 hours pay. Then came along the Fair Labor Standards Act that corrected most of that forced labor bit. That is what you work under now in the Fed. wildland fire agencies because your classified as a “Forestry Tech.”

    There used to be a GS-10 pay cap. In 1987 fire assignments of over 30 days were common in FS R5 (There used to be no limit as to how long you were on a fire. A great motivator to put the fire out indeed.). So some folks hit that cap and there hours dropped to 0 (zero) pay. A bunch of wives got involved, started writing letters to there congressional reps. and sure enough that was corrected for the most part.

    I too have seen this pay issue raised many times. (Not so much the psychological perspective) Even had Congress members write and sign onto bills for consideration just to never hear about it again. Don’t give up hope. Keep punching. One day when no one is looking it will be placed in a bill about dog poop research and it will become law but not if everyone stays silent.

  82. Can you also make recommendations on how our government and the forest service manage our forests to reduce the number of fires?

  83. I regret using the figure of 53 suicides in 2 years in my letter, which seems to be a big UNDERSTATEMENT. Check out the article posted to REI here:

    “Dill has been collecting data about firefighter suicides through the FFBHA since 2014. Though this data is reliant upon self-reports from families, he anticipates he’ll hear about more than 100 firefighter suicides in 2019 alone. Last year, 87 firefighters died by suicide, a number that outpaced lives lost while fighting wildfires in 2017, according to an FFBHA suicide report.”

  84. Mental health is an issue that needs to be addressed.
    The point the letter doesn’t address are the 2nd and 3rd order effects of the pay raises…
    Law enforcement is about 60k in average and they deal with a lot more danger. The military earns far less as well. Is everyone going to get a raise that feels like they need it? Everyone wants to get paid, of course everyone feels they deserve more.
    BLUF——It’s economics, you get payed for what you do based on the intrinsic value bestowed by the government and society . It’s mindless work digging line. Being a Sawyer is semi skilled. Con crews can do the same work for a fraction. The hard truth is that it’s honestly not that much of a skilled career as it is labor intensive.
    I quit after 10 seasons ( 4 as a CS) because I didn’t want to miss birthdays, holidays etc. I wanted more money but I knew I wasn’t going to get 60k by scratching line. Find a different job then, the machine will go on and on. We’re all replaceable as i learned. They use you as a tool, the same way you use a pulaski.

  85. I support the comments in the letter. Time to accept the “Wildland Firefighters” as valuable to the mission and provide pay and benefits accordingly. As a 28 year veteran of the USDA Forest Service and having worked as Communications Leader and Computer Specialist at several fire assignments I am familiar with the fire situations crews go through. If fire fighters are worth bringing back for recurring assignments, they must be valuable for their abilities. Pay them and award them benefits according to standards of employment, not keep them working without compensation.

  86. You have my 100% support. Many gets injured or lost their lives in your line of work. Need a reform ASAP to give them a better benefits and pay.

  87. All those p;sychologists are not needed. There are plenty of retired social workers, I for one, who would happily volunteer, pro bono, to man ranger stations or whereever to be available to these people. Just let me know where and how. We are trained and experienced working with traumatized and highly stressed individuals.

  88. Thank you for your heartfelt explanation of the circumstances that you are faced with. It was an eye-opening article and one that everyone should read. I certainly respect your profession and wish that there was more that ordinary people like me could do, other than contact our representatives, to further your cause. I hope that you are able to achieve a decent wage as well as psychiatric counseling.

  89. I wonder if it has more to do with the fact that firefighting has changed so much that they are not even allowed to actually fight the fire on it’s flanks.
    I wouldn’t want to be called a hero for literally sitting on my ass watching it burn, or backfiring it to cause a bigger foot print!

  90. We put out an innumerable amount of fires by fighting on the flanks, cutting off the head and being very aggressive. Donald you are simply incorrect and dangerously wrong. Why lie?

    I agree with Burt grab a tool and work the 55 mile flank from Warm Springs, Oregon down towards Salem and don’t forget to avoid the buildings and bodies in your way.

  91. Thanks for agreeing Ben. I reckon old Burt’s reply got deleted for being on the spicy side. I got a little too roostered up over Donald’s remarks. That’s alright though. We can’t keep the bees out of every bonnet.

    But yeah, we just need to go direct more. That’s the issue. Glad he solved it. I guess our work here is done. All these fires will go out. Mental health and pay are no longer an issue.

    You heard it here folks! Hear ye! Hear ye! A decree to action! Fight the fire on its flanks! Stop sitting on your asses watching it burn!

  92. Hi Jane , & all. I would support hiring mental health professionals of all calibers available to WFF’s. I worked fire for close to 20 years, as a shot and smj, then became a clinical social worker (GS-185-Social Worker), at an FS Job Corps ( and I still carried a red card, went out on fire assignments). Furthermore, I would certainly advocate for the recruitment and scholarship/intern possibilities for those WFF’s who would like to become a mental health professional, and provide services to those in the WFF community. This would be a great career ladder for WFF’s, they know personally what it IS like to experience this work. Many VA therapists for instance, were themselves combat vets and that gave them advantage knowing their population. I did a graduate internship as a VA counselor, and instantly saw may parallels between WFF and combat vet experiences. The vets appreciated someone who at least wore knuckles bear, as a WFF been through tough times.

  93. This volunteer counseling sounds very helpful. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s happening already in places. I’m aware of it happening with burn victims for example.
    Many prefer to talk to their peers with experience and passion. An innovative solution. Coordinating together with some systemic training from professionals and having a working referral system to offer further rapid professional help when needed would also be good.
    As a past Union negotiator, I know it’s important to keep up the arguments for whats needed. Don’t give up. Best of luck to you all.

  94. Wow! You would be a gift to firefighters! Prob after the work-season though… Hey SUL’s and IC’s – How can this person, and other psychologists willing to volunteer their time, get utilized?!? I THINK just handing out their phone numbers would be productive…

  95. Maybe we should stop calling a job a career. Wildland firefighting is a job, it is a gig. I have eight years experience and the problem is that people face huge obstacles when attempting to leave. I left and am currently working part time and trying to go to school. I’m in my mid-thirties and so isn’t my wife who also fought fire for 7 years. She wants to have kids, and I have spent the last two years working an entry level job in a new field so that I can be home with her. I have been turned down for better positions over and over. It will be very difficult to swing kids with my current job and insurance that has a $6000 deductible. Experience jumping and hotshoting mean very little to employers outside of fire. The reason people get paid more at McDonalds is because there is more demand in the market place for burgers than there is for firefighters.
    It’s time we educate people to firewise their own properties and not expect the government to show up and protect them. If your not allowed to build in a flood zone why would we allow people to build in a box canyon? Why are we using lumber instead of stone? Montreal had a fire in 1852 and changed materials and construction techniques. Why haven’t we done the same? Why are we putting up new subdivisions around Boise and Bozemen instead of building up our town centers?
    The reason more women don’t fight fire is because it is a dead end. I could have gotten a doctorate degree in the same amount of time I spent becoming a smokejumper.
    The western ecosystem relies on fire, if we consider ourselves stewards of the land we should stop excluding fire from our environment.

  96. Concur on the mental health needs – how to provide, can range from professionals on staff to peer-to peer care. On my watch, we helped a firefighter avert tragedy and find the professional help he needed. He is now healthier. I hope for him and his family he remains so. Averting tragic outcomes is a high priority in the FS, Chief Vicki Christiansen is aware of issues and supports addressing them. This letter provided some good ideas. As for budget in the USFS- please consider the facts stated in this article by former Undersecretary of Ag Jim Lyons: https://www.politico.com/news/agenda/2020/09/15/trump-fires-california-federal-land-415431

  97. The money is obviously there, they pay cooperators vastly more than their own employees. Forest Service base wages for similar positions are nearly half what they are for ODF, DNR or CALFIRE. All these state agencies provide better benefits as well.

    It’s time to value Wildland Firefighters. It’s time to pay them fair wages. This letter addresses ways to attract and care for a passionate and skilled workforce, that can balance home and work life to succeed for themselves, their families and society.

    I think the psychologist part is a last resort, we need to not let people go down that mental stress road and if they do, then have a net there to help them.

  98. Dennis the portal to portal was not something CAL FIRE just gave to the fire line troops. The firefighters union bargained for that with management before it was put in writing. So if the forestry techs want that, form a union that will fight for the benefits you can can achieve at the fire management level and fight with USDA-FS Washington and OPM for the rest. And if you were not aware, only the firefighters get P-P. The rest of CAL FIRE staff gets only hours worked. Just like everybody else.

  99. Tara, your loss is tremendous, and your son needs help now. I am so sorry your husband, you, your son and your loved ones had to and continue to to carry this burden. Change is needed!

  100. I’d love to know why an LA policeman upon graduating from the police academy makes $32.31 an hour and firemen make less than $20 an hour. I think firemen should be paid more period or at the very least, the same. Who decides this stuff?

  101. https://youtu.be/YRCqcs8CEHw

    President Biden just referred to “forestry technicians” as “Firefighters”. The President acknowledges it, the IAFF should help in the fight for equal and deserved treatment. The President said around minute 1:27 “So I owe you, the nation owes you. Especially as we keep asking more of you. To deal with raging fires made more dangerous by the climate crisis”. Mr. President, if you truly believe you owe Wildland Firefighters, then show it through your actions please.

  102. Thanks Tyler for the share. You are right, Biden could help many of us with a stroke of the pen, so we are hoping for some relief. Kamala Harris is aware of the situation we face and Joe Biden spoke at the Granite Mountain service. We’ll see.


  103. In all, I gave 15 of my years to the outfit, and it broke me.
    My first hour on the job I heard from a superior that temporaries are like flies … they eat s**t and bother people. I should have walked out right then, but I wanted to believe. I had spent my time in school, and right then I was too hungry to leave. The stories are endless, and everybody knows it.

  104. My husband was injured in the 80’s. He was hired as a gs4 forestry tech. His paperwork actually said primary firefighter in handwriting. He received wc till his death in 2009. I filed for widow benefits. It has taken me 12 years -because of due process violations on OWCP’s part . I had to finally file suit to get them to approve it. Aside from him dying of his injuries and no due process, a comparedly small irrition was their refusal to acknowledge his job as a primary firefighter. Everything he did was either to prevent fire or fight fire and owcp always called him a forestry tech who “sometimes fought fires”. It may not seem like a big deal but if you’re injured on the job and they play down what your job was, a second opinion doctor will too. Just a reason to have a true job description if God forbid, you are injured.

  105. PS. He loved working this job ,the people, all 7 years. He would have kept working there if he weren’t injured.

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