A wildland firefighter who had worked his way into middle management of the Truckee Interagency Hotshot Crew has publicly resigned. A two-page letter laying out his reasons has been widely circulated, along with a copy of an email written by the Superintendent of the crew, Scott Burghard, discussing the loss of this experienced firefighter. Wildfire Today received both letters from third parties, not the two individuals named in the letters.
Chris Mariano was a GS-6 Squad Boss on Truckee until April 7, 2022. He said drafting the letter was difficult — the best part of his life was working as a hotshot on the Tahoe National Forest, writing:
I prospered — I was all in. I wanted nothing more than to be a hotshot, to be a leader, to care for the land and to be of service. While the sense of purpose and camaraderie remain, I now feel hypocritical to recruit or encourage crew members to work for an agency that is failing to support its fire management programs and thus the public.
The agency is failing its firefighters on so many levels. Classification, pay, work life balance, mental health, presumptive disease coverage, and injury/fatality support. There are efforts to correct some of these issues but for many it is too little too late…We are losing people at a terrifying rate at a time when wildfires burn longer, hotter, more frequently, and with devastating severity.
Mr. Mariano became an expert at operating drones, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), for the US Forest Service and was qualified as an FAA Commercial UAS Operator. He was the first UAS pilot in Region 5 (California) and was certified for UAS aerial ignition, test and evaluation pilot, inspector pilot, and was on a national instructor cadre for UAS aerial ignition. He had hoped to move into a full time UAS position with the Forest Service but as a GS-6 he was not officially qualified to apply.
“I plan to move into the private sector to continue training men and women to operate UAS,” Mr. Marino said, “and assist in the development of unmanned technologies to assist in wildfire suppression and prevention.”
Below is the letter from his supervisor, Scott Burghard, and following that, is a .pdf of the letter from Mr. Marino.
“Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Subject: Another IHC Resignation
“I am distributing the resignation letter of my Squad Boss Chris Mariano. Chris is the employee every supervisor dreams of hiring. His work ethic is unrivaled. His selfless commitment is unbelievable. He has battle tested, boots on the ground operational experience. He was instrumental in bringing UAS to the fireline and introducing technologies to a technologically stagnant environment. He is a creative problem solver. He is a strong communicator. He is intelligent, inclusive, dedicated, committed, passionate, professional… you name it. Chris is the epitome of what the agency should be cultivating as a leader… not losing. The fireline will miss him. The agency will miss him. I will miss him. And my job will be tremendously more challenging without him, and my crew will be less effective and capable because of it.
“Chris’s resignation hits close to home, and very hard. Watching the mass exodus of our operational knowledge is one of the saddest evolutions I have witnessed. Many of my fire assignments have transformed from operationally focused suppression tactics to exercises in preserving human life. We do not have the tacit knowledge, operational competence, or resource capacity to be effective with the scale of wildfire complexity we are facing. Because, we have not supported our Firefighters. We cannot fill our vacancies. In the rare circumstance we are successful at hiring we are replacing training and operational experience with a lower degree of aptitude. Fire behavior, fire size, and fire severity have increased exponentially over the last decade. In contrast, the agency response has been on the opposite trajectory. Every aspect of our wildfire suppression workforce is struggling to retain, recruit, and simply staff. On the ground and in the air. How are we allowing this to happen? Was the devastation of the last few fire seasons not a compelling illustration? How is the threat of entire ecosystems, communities and human life being incinerated not prioritized appropriately? When is the agency going to adequately address staffing, retention and the needs of its wildfire suppression programs? Wildfires certainly aren’t waiting…
“Chris is more than an empty seat in a crew haul. He is more than a vacant name on an org chart. He is more than a statistical loss. His absence will be felt. And the absence of the many somehow incalculable resignations will be felt. His resignation embodies every deficiency that will contribute to the biblical destruction ahead of us.
Superintendent Truckee Hotshots
Letter of Resignation Chris Mariano