In case you missed the Congressman calling firefighters “unskilled labor”

A video on the topic has received nearly 130,000 views

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Smokejumper Burro Fire
Smokejumper landing near the Burro Fire in Colorado on the San Juan National Forest.

A United States Congressman calling wildland firefighters “unskilled labor” is something that many of us current and former firefighters will remember for a long time.

The comment appeared July 2 in an article in the Union Democrat that included an interview with U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, whose Congressional District Four includes the Mother Lode area of California and all of the Stanislaus National Forest. As an example of how the U.S. Forest Service is having difficulty in hiring and retaining wildland firefighters, the article quoted Traci Allen, the acting public affairs officer for the Stanislaus National Forest, as saying their fire staffing was 25% short at that time.

When asked about the issue, Rep. McClintock said, “enhanced unemployment benefits are causing a severe labor shortage in entry-level positions.”

He went on to say,“Wildfire firefighting is hot, miserable work, but it is not skilled labor.”

Even the basic newly hired wildland firefighter immediately receives 40 to 80 hours of training. If they continue beyond the first year, the formal and on the job training they receive over the rest of their career builds up. To work in any of the dozens of positions on fires recognized by the Incident Command System above the level of Type 2 Firefighter requires additional structured courses and proving your skills which are documented in writing in Task Books at every step. It can take 10 to 20 years to acquire the skills, knowledge, and abilities to serve in the higher level jobs on complex incidents.

An “unskilled laborer” attempting to serve as Division Supervisor or Operations Section Chief, for example, would most certainly get scores of their subordinates killed.

An Illinois-based YouTube vlogger who posts videos on his “Fire Department Chronicles” channel weighed in with strong opinions on the issue in a video that has received nearly 130,000 views.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

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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.

51 thoughts on “In case you missed the Congressman calling firefighters “unskilled labor””

  1. My son was an Unskilled Laborer who died doing something this person would never do. Enough said.

  2. Why not take those 535 people in congress and switch them with 535 fire fighters on the line in one of the current major wildfire incidents and see what happens. I would bet that a lot would get done in DC by labor day, I worry though that wildfire would go to hell.

  3. Tom Wenk has an excellent idea. Pass it on to President Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Buy all those members of Congress some fancy fire boots and get 535 business suits for the fire fighters.

  4. Ask him how unskilled labor saved his cabin during the Donnell Fire in 2018. And he is no relation to me

  5. It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant members of Congress are and how anything which requires hand labor (construction, cooking, firefighting, auto repair, lumber milling, plumbing, carpentry, wood craft, etc. they consider “unskilled” labor. I would like any of them to try fixing something themselves. YouTube videos can only do so much. Most of them probably couldn’t put a simple table from Ikea together. I wonder how many of them could keep a house, cook, do laundry for a year without their “unskilled” housekeeper or significant other.

  6. I’d put this statement up there along with and on par with former mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s statements about farmers not rising to the intellectual levels and abilities of the high tech sector, media, or finance community. All they have to do is plant a seed and put some water on it. Really? Anyone regardless of their political views surely would agree that those “skilled people” have played a major role in the domestic and foreign problems facing our country today.

    As a resident of Central Valley and a retired federal wildland firefighter of 34 years I am very familiar with the Congressman’s district having worked on numerous fires in Yosemite and the Stanislaus. He has a severe problem in his district with the conditions there as evidenced by very large incidents. I don’t think minimizing the role of those who chose wildland fire as a career will serve him well politically with his constituents . If offered the chance to inquire with the Congressman about his views on farmers and whether it includes them as unskilled also. I’d would bet he would not include them. Why, probably because of the clout they have at the national level. I believe the Congressman shot himself in the foot on this one along with other politicians who shoot from the hip like lets all get out there with rakes and clean up the forest floor. This is a bi partisan issue of ignorance and grand standing.

  7. Skilled firefighters don’t get free health care and a fat pension after they leave the job. Unskilled buffoons like this politician get free health care and benefits when they leave office.

  8. I’d like to clarify my comment, TOM McClintock is a tinhorn. NOT Steve. Steve, you’re cool.

    Also, we should ask him about the unskilled laborers who’ve died on fires on his district. I called his office a bunch of times a few weeks ago to let them know I was an angry former unskilled laborer who’d been on a fatality fire on his district. Matt the receptionist was always happy to hear from me. Eventually he read me Tom’s fake apology, so I stopped calling. Poor Matt, Tommy owes him dinner for taking the heat for him.

    Next time some unskilled laborers save his cabin, they should leave a cornback rattler on his porch.

  9. We need more firefighters, first responders, good policemen, nurses and doctors in our society – they deserve the highest pays the government can give them! We can do away with those like McClintock who sits behind his desk – I don’t know him or whatever good he has done but I am sure he has never sacrificed his own life for anybody else – His words speak loud – telling me what kind of a person he is! He needs to experience inhaling thick smoke in his nostrils, feeling the heat of burning fire on his skin and battling something more powerful and bigger than him – so he could show his skills in serving our country!

  10. Rep. McClintock Requests Information About the Lack of Initial Suppression Efforts to Combat the Tamarack Fire from Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Vicki Christiansen
    July 20, 2021 Press Release
    Washington, D.C.- Rep. McClintock sent a letter today to Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Vicki Christiansen requesting answers as to why there was a lack of suppression action to combat the Tamarack Fire that began on July 4, 2021 until after July 10, 2021.

    “This fire has now burned over 23,000 acres with no reported containment, threatening nearby communities and forcing evacuations…When was the decision made to monitor this fire instead of immediately acting to suppress it? Why was this decision made? Who made this decision and which USFS officials were consulted and informed? What legal authority authorized the USFS to allow this wildfire to burn in lieu of immediate full suppression?”

    “Given the number of wildfires and their increasing size coupled with severe fire danger conditions throughout the West, I recommend that you immediately reevaluate current U.S. Forest Service direction that allows wildfires to burn and instruct all Regional Foresters that all wildfires be suppressed as soon as possible.”

    Read Congressman McClintock’s full letter to Chief Christiansen here:

  11. I think it is time for him to retire for being “unskilled”. Instead of appreciation to fire fighters he ignored their hard work in fire fighting.

  12. Politician opens mouth, Horse raises tail, the same thing comes out!
    nuff said.

  13. Says the “unskilled politician.” What a pep talk Tom? (sarc)

    Career politician Tom has to trash talk Firefighters because he clearly suffers from Firefighter Envy!

    Best to ignore Tom and others neg nothings and Stay Safe on the lines.

  14. The congressman IS an ignorant ass, as so many have have delightfully detailed above. The problem solving skills and knowledge base demonstrated at most every level of wildland fire fighting is impressive. It requires investment from employee and employer alike. I must say, however, that when my entire day consisted of ‘take a lick and take a step’ as one speck on a long line of yellow shirts I felt distinctly intellectually unchallenged. Maybe just me.

  15. You can leave him a voicemail (916) 786-5560 at his CA district office to share your concerns about our “unskilled labor” profession and perhaps of his request to Chief Vicki Christiansen.

    His comments are insensitive, hurtful, and harmful to our community, not just wildland, but structural Fire engineers, and aviation, who assist us protecting him and the public.

  16. Rep. McClintock has no discenible skills aside from being a politician — which is less a skillset and more of a shillset.

    I’d really enjoy seeing the Chief reply to McClintocks query with a question about why he’s constantly advocating for cutting the Forest Service budget and refusing to do anything on climate change.

    For someone who has served on the Resources Committee and subcommittees, it was an awfully ignorant thing for him to say.

  17. Dear Mrs. Hamm,

    I offer my humble condolences for the loss of your Son Caleb.

    People like Tom McClintock need to hear about Firefighters like your Son, because they are really clueless and ignorant.

  18. Maybe if he apologized for his comment, the letter would mean something. Except she’s leaving (left?) so…

  19. It takes a lot of skill, sacrifice, determination, and God spiritual soul to be a Fire Fighter. I can’t understand why anyone would think this career would be a simple one.

  20. As a retired firefighter its painful knowing you lost of your son, a brother firefighter.
    Please accept my sincere condolences. I honor his memory, as do all firefighters.

  21. So maybe someone can help me out here, and Bill, maybe I’ve missed it or what, let me know if I have. But can someone explain why the FS spends all this time and money on getting us qualed up and what not, every year to train us on suppression tactics and we brief every morning on what not to do with the 6 minutes for safety, but within the 9+ years of being with the Agency I’ve spent more then half my time on severity rolls. This is coming from someone who’s spent time on T2IA, shot crews, type 6,4,3 engines and am currently in an assistant captain gig. I get it, engines get shafted on rolls, but when we actually do get on a fire, we sit on a dead divisions and I had friends/co-workers running task forces complaining that they have not more then one agency rig that even carries drip torches let alone the quals to preform a simple burn out. My question is why is it that the fed resources are getting held back on severity when contracts are getting called to campaign fires left and right. Not sitting here saying contracts can’t do the job adequate by any means, but that’s a huge problem in seeing, especially recently.

  22. Does the Congressman need to be reminded who he works for and who pays his salary? The Congressman needs to issue an apology followed by a couple days at a fire camp for a major incident. Eating with the crews, spending some time with air ops and then a plane ride with some smokejumpers. It is obvious by his comments that he doesn’t get it. He can’t fathom that somebody would do this job because they want to and love it. He thinks they’re doing it because that’s all they can do. The Congressman was disrespectful and ignorant. It is a big deal!

  23. Thanks for sharing this story. I am dismayed and disgusted that US Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) would disparage the hard and grueling work of wildland firefighters. I will be sharing this story with other media outlets and my congressional representatives.

  24. My son was on a hotshot crew for 6 years, while in college………for anyone to call them unskilled is the epitome of moronic ignorance. Those guys risk their lives every day and it is very hard work that requires a lot of training and keeping in shape. SHAME ON YOU

  25. Barry Callenberger, Palomar Hotshots and then I think Eldorado, a long time ago….Very good to see that you are still around…..

    The video was fantastic, always refreshing when someone outside the fed curtain gets it……

    When I was Supt on a shot crew we were on a fire in MT coming home for 2 days RR and a US senator caught up with us at the airport and let us have it for not doing more to protect the ranchers graze interest, we kept our cool and smiled.
    Yep sometimes our elected officials just do not get it…..
    Change is coming…..Just hang in there a while longer……..

  26. Just for clarification I was not with the crew members that met senator Burns, I was at a different terminal with another part of the crew. I used we out of context….My apologies. Thanks.

  27. MS Hamm,
    My condolences to you and you family. I’m embarrassed by the so called Representative of the people. Your son is a hero.

  28. I find it interesting that y’all are upset that a Congressman called you “unskilled laborers”, but you’re not upset that Congress is working to remove you’re hazard pay. Y’all are upset that a Congressman called you “unskilled laborers”, but you’re not upset when women (i.e. your mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and daughters) are called b____, s___, w____, and c____. Y’all are upset that a Congressman called you “unskilled laborers”, but you’re not upset when a woman commits suicide, because she was raped on a fire. Y’all are upset that a Congressman called you “unskilled laborers”, but you’re not upset when men and women die, because of poor management. It seems to me that y’all are upset, but not upset enough to do a dam thing about it. Wake up you are “unskilled laborers” that’s why you stay quiet when bad things happen, because you’re afraid you’ll lose your job. WAKE UP and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

  29. More importantly, vote for those who recognize the work being done and will raise pay and improve working conditions. Also, those that recognize that climate change is contributing to all this and want to do something about it. As opposed to those who give firefighters and law enforcement lip service when in public and then block any changes to improve pay when it comes time to vote for the actual change. Just saying.

  30. Who the hell does Congressman Burns think he is? With the use of “y’all”, it sounds like he is from a Southern State- Are they all crazy down there? Why does this reporter even quote him- he should done a firemans gear and really see what they go thru, of course he won’t because he is nothing but a loudmouth coward!

  31. So to recap your comment-
    we aren’t upset
    -when people die
    -when women on the fireline are disrespected
    -when women get raped on fires (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’ve just never heard of it happening)
    -when they commit suicide
    -we lose our hazard pay (far less of an issue than all of the other things listed here)
    -we are unskilled
    I didn’t realize that we didn’t care about any of these things at all. Us forestry technicians must really be horrible people.

  32. According to the US Constitution the requirements to be a member of Congress is age 25 and have a pulse. Brains and a spine optional.

  33. 1) Earlier this month 2 men die in a plane crash. There were 2 articles on Wildfire Today and a total of 6 comments (mostly condolences). A Congressman calls forestry technicians “unskilled laborers” and in this article alone there are 37 comments.
    2) As for disrespecting women, read the comments under Wildfire Today’s article about NPS’ all women crew. That is a small taste of what it is like to be a woman firefighter. If you want to know more Google it! There are many Congressional hearings on the subject.
    3) Yes, women get raped on fire assignments and when they come forward they get fired. Google it!!! There were 4 women who were gang raped by 12 men on a fire recently. All the women were fired. When the Regional Forester was asked in a family meeting why were the women fired the Regional Forester said, “I needed the men, I don’t need the women”.
    4) Yes, suicide is still a problem at the NPS and FS. Many suicides occur during the “off” season, when men and women have time to think about what they’ve gone through. If you’re thinking about suicide, please get some help!
    5) Yes, under the current wording you will lose your hazard pay in exchange the starting salary will go from $13 to $15 hr. I don’t think that’s a good deal, but as long as your Congressmen are going to listen to retirees instead of current employees, then this is what is going to continue to happen!!!
    6) Yes, by definition “technicians” are unskilled, that is why we are trying to reclassify the job to “firefighter”.
    7) My point is that a lot of people seem to be upset about being called “unskilled” by a Congressman, but they don’t seem to be upset about how they are treated by their own agency. I think it time for change!!!

  34. You need to get off engines and come over to the shot and WFM world. That’s your answer!

    But, back to the main point of the political jazz, we need more of him out there. Maybe this is the way to actually get employees to apply for jobs! Then anyone with a heart beat would apply, and we would fill all the jobs. Next, watch all the accident statistics rise like none other, then they will wonder if this is a skilled job or not. Doing your job to the best of our ABILITY, like we do everyday on the line, is just making us looks like ghosts, we screw up more then we get noticed?! Bad philosophy, YES. It’s a corrupt world with if we let politics get to us. Let’s get back out there and do our jobs like we always, save lives and your own!

  35. Wrong place wrong time there SR! Do a reality check on your husband and how he deals with death and suicides, we don’t publicize it to the world! And anyone on here that cares enough about their job and life doesn’t do the things that you mention above, we all think that’s wrong. So yeah it’s a big deal when someone says that’s about us!

  36. WFM, I’m not sure I understand your comment about my husband. What do you mean? Suicide is an important issue, because so many firefighters deal with depression, but there’s still no safe way to deal with it. I’m glad you think that the issues I mentioned are wrong, the problem, not everyone does. The problem is the agency is still punishing the people who come forward, the victims, and still protecting and promoting the perpetrators. I’m sorry, that the Congressman offended you, maybe now people will understand what it feels like to be a woman in the FS and be called a c____. Because, to me being called “unskilled” by a Congressman doesn’t mean a dam thing!

  37. The response teams need better pay. Period. It’s just a fact. Another fact… climate change as a result of atmospheric carbon concentration. The Congressman has no regard for either of these ideas.

    Hi comments also make clear that he has no understanding of the role of fire in NA forests.

    If folks like him would GET OUT OF THE WAY, we could begin to make progress on these challenges.

  38. You simply need to understand “whataboutism,” “diversion,” “deflection” and “obfuscation.

  39. Most of our Representatives wouldn’t be able to make it through their first hotline and definitely not a good 10 hour line like my crew put in last week on South Yaak.

  40. I guess SR, when someone disrespect up in our face it means a lot when we are all (well most of us) busting are a** out there on the line. I have a hard time talking about feeling and warm heart stuff, so when someone passes or injured, my tears don’t start coming, I keep a lot inside as I would assume a lot others as well. And I am sorry that you have been called things like that in this agency, I have heard horror stories like this and is 100% not acceptable. If I even heard a hint of that around myself and agency personnel they would get a piece of paper stating their 52 on it so quickly! So for me, not knowing how that disrespect feels often, this is the closest that I get is this “politician” calling us unskilled.

    Again, sorry for all those guys who did that, they should all rot in…

  41. WFM All Day, thank you for your kind words and I am so glad that you’ve never been disrespected. Seriously, I am elated! I hope you are never treated that way! I’ve gone through a lot…I have over 26 years of “unskilled” experience 😉 and I was wrongfully terminated by the FS, because I was sexually assaulted. The insult to injury, they called me a “poor performer” (the equivalent to “unskilled”). Since then, I have be in the fight for my life. I’ve been in a legal battle that doesn’t seem to ever end and I have been physically attacked several times. The sad thing, I’m not alone. There are a lot of other women going through the same thing. We have spoken to the former Chief, Vilsack, numerous Congressmen and women, the Vice President, and the President. So, I’m not surprised by the Congressman’s comments…it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. I’m just surprised that other people are upset when we should be upset about other things…like how people are being treated, pay disparities, suicides, people dying in fires…helicopters and planes going down…I mean, R3 didn’t even do half mass for the last men who died. I really do appreciate your comments…I just have one question (ok more than one). When is it time, when is it ok to get mad? How long?…How many people have to be hurt?…How many people have to die until we say enough is enough? Cause, my brother died a year ago…and I’m pretty pissed!!! I also want you to know, I don’t think all FS employees are bad people. In fact, a lot are great, wonderful, hardworking, dedicated, devoted, loyal…I could go on and on…but, some are bad, really horrible, rapists, pedophiles, criminals, and those make all the other people look bad too. I saw an article on a firefighter the other day and I had to call all my friends and ask is he a good guy or a bad guy, because my gut was telling me he was bad…I know that’s because of what has happened to me and that’s just sad. Oh, one last thing, Happy thoughts! 🙂 I’m not married. 🙂 Good luck out there! Stay Safe!

  42. Unless you have the luxury of facing wildfire, how can you call any furworkee unskilled. It is the egotistic and arrogance who has trained someone to write his outlines for him. Society needs to wake up and recognize that because you were able to regurgitate the correct answers to a quiz that does not mean that the person is now skilled!!

  43. I just spoke with the Congressman’s office where his representative tried to tell me that his (the representative) father, grandfather, two brothers have all worked for CalFire and the Congressman was “quoted out of context”. So I proposed this…
    1) Send me a link to the Congressman’s “in context” remarks (I offered my email) and let me read them and decide for myself if they were taken out of context;
    2) Have the Congressman don the gear that a smoke jumper wears and just walk around outside for 10 minutes in the current California heat. The Congressman doesn’t need to jump out of a plane or work a fireline just don the gear and see what it is actually like to gear up and go fight a fire.

    The response? “The Congressman has gone onto the floor of the House many times, and introduced many bills calling firefighters heroes and is then quoted out of context…”

    My reply? “Don the gear. Walk around in it. It’s not the same as giving a speech or introducing a bill. Or calling someone a hero. Go out and find out what it to feel what a firefighter feels and then while the Congressman is in the gear, tell him that this is what unskilled labor feels like.”

    Response? “Thank you for your call and I will pass on your remarks to the Congress man.”

    The complete clueless claim to be representatives of the people but they haven’t got a clue.

  44. I hadn’t heard that Biden or Pelosi maligned firefighters… but it they did, perhaps you could share your source for this information??

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