Opinion: Rebuttal to Forest Service Deputy Chief’s statement

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Firefighter with chainsaw
Firefighter with chainsaw. NWCG photo.

(Editor’s note: this was written by a person who asked to remain anonymous.)

After reading the press release from Jaelith Hall-Rivera, I felt a need to reply. And I want to thank Wildfire Today for running my opinion here.

Jaelith Hall-Rivera is the Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry, and her boss is the Chief of the US Forest Service, Randy Moore. Jaelith’s department is Fire and Aviation Management, which houses the wildfire programs that firefighters work. There is no excuse for her testimony to differ from her bosses testimony, yet that is exactly what happened. It’s almost as if Jaelith’s press release came out before Chief Moore testified the previous day in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee. While Jaelith assured California representatives that they were on pace to have full staffing in California, just 30 days later Chief Moore testified that California, Oregon and Washington may be 50% staffed, something Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley called, “a scary situation.”

Multiple articles have been published since Jaelith’s testimony on April 5th, pointing out that she falsely painted a rosy picture to legislators when the situation was dire. Read excellent articles about the testimony from NBC News, Thomson Reuters and BuzzFeed, and listen to the audio of an NPR interview with the BuzzFeed reporter.

Watch all the testimonies from April 5th, to April 27th, to May 4th and see how they change.

Jaelith testified on April 5th that their goal for staffing was 11,300 wildland firefighters, stating “and that is an increase.” But looking at a memo from Jaelith last fall, she claims that the USFS provided bonuses to 11,300 wildland firefighters (GS3-9 only) last year. So even if they are at 90% of that now, then that represents a 10% LOSS at minimum. Something is wrong here: either Jaelith lied about the numbers, or the USFS sent bonuses to a lot of people last year that should not have received them. Either way, it doesn’t instill confidence in the Forest Service Management.

There is a lie somewhere, and the misrepresentation to Representative Porter is infuriating for a workforce. Claiming we are on pace to be fully staffed when the spring fire hire event had not even started is misrepresenting the truth, at best. Especially when the same Fire Hire event in 2021 only netted an additional 56 hires. Why would this year be any different when the work environment and pay have continued to devolve?

Finally, Randy Moore decided to do some damage control and admit that although they were at 90% nationally, in some areas such as California, Oregon and Washington, staffing was as low as 50%. Again, that’s a shocking statement, but the numbers still don’t add up.

California makes up about 50% of the USFS firefighting workforce, so if they are near 50%, as well as Oregon and Washington, then how can we realistically be above 60-75% staffing nationally? This is 4th grade math: averages.

As a workforce, we simply want truth and transparency. That’s really the minimum. There can’t be that many FMOs in the USFS. Tell each of them to spend 30 minutes entering in the data from their district so we know exactly what positions are vacant. And make this database public and searchable. This database would take a GS6 a day or two to complete, and another 30-60 minutes for each FMO to fill out. Until this project is completed, we can assume the USFS either has no idea what their staffing level is, or they are lying about it.

I want to offer solutions whenever I offer criticism, so here are a few more:

1. Explain very clearly what the holdup is with the funded infrastructure pay raises, and what your plan is for payments including backpay as stated by law.

2. Explain your goal for what a career ladder looks like, even if it doesn’t become reality. Will we be able to have a living wage? Or should we get out now?

3. Start showing some receipts. Show you care. Why are NFFE and Grassroots Wildland Firefighters lobbying the Secretary of Labor instead of our own agency? Why are senators asking for OWCP reforms instead of our own agency? My friend was seriously injured and the USFS told him to call a charity. Is that acceptable to those in the Washington Office?

4. Rebuild the credibility of the USFS Washington Office by including an average employee (GS5-7) on all planning and workforce related meetings. Allow them to represent the workforce, and to the workforce. This would be a detail assignment

5. Explain exactly how we can increase not only our female participation in the workforce (6% of Fire workforce), but other minorities as well as LGBTQ individuals and what actionable items are happening now to make that happen.

6. Credibility only comes with transparency. Our workforce has never been more united and connected through shared struggle and technology. We have more knowledge of the situation than our predecessors and can see through the misinformation and deceit. We will not sit by idly or submit to threats from the DC office. Accountability, authenticity and transparency are not optional anymore.

I understand that the USFS did not ask for these new reforms in classification and pay, but they are here now, and our workforce needs them. But not just firefighters, the whole USFS workforce needs to be brought into the modern federal workforce that exists seemingly in every other agency.

I am optimistic that better times are ahead, but our leadership needs to show their hand a bit more, and offer some hope and motivation for those of us that are putting our physical and mental health on the line every single day for our employer and our country.

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64 thoughts on “Opinion: Rebuttal to Forest Service Deputy Chief’s statement”

  1. Thank you for speaking for many of us. Watching this current round of mis-information from USFS leadership is disheartening. I retired almost 20 years ago (Fed fire career of 34 years) and have continued to be disappointed. As I served in IMT and other positions for 16 more seasons I saw a growing chasm between the ground personnel and management.

    My biggest concern is that the morale and safety of the firefighting community will be diminished in this environment of waning trust of upper management.

    1. The efforts of the anonymous author are greatly appreciated as it is not often the case that accurate and honest criticisms of our public agencies are discussed in an open forum. Over the past years of reading Wildfire Today and actively monitoring of USFS projects, I’ve gained a greater insight to the management style of the Pacific Northwest forest lands. And as an outsider and environmental scientist, I try to suspend judgement as I dig deeper into the issue and of course it is so much more easier to put their efforts into context by judging them being as incompetent. After a year attending CalFire meetings in Sacramento and participating in CalFire’s district prescribe burn efforts, I observed a disconnect between leaders in the field and those directing policy in Sacramento especially regarding WUI wildfires. If only an anonymous analyses of CalFire manager’s about those Sacramento backroom dealings with private forest owners, what could be brought to the surface for discussion are the misappropriations of state funds and the prevention of wildfires at WUIs in California.

    2. That sort of Labor and equality between ground forces and management expands across many field in this country the past couple of decades. Capitalism my friend .thank you for your good work and making it out safe

  2. And here I thought you, Bill, stated early on and often, that personal attacks would not be allowed, even when deserved.

    1. First, you are misquoting. Our standards are here.

      There is nothing personal in this piece. It is an analysis of the statements and actions of a very high-ranking government official who oversees the US Forest Service, an agency that intends to employ 11,300 firefighters in positions that are grossly underpaid. Watching out for and having the backs of our country’s wildland firefighters is one of our core principles and reason for being.

    2. How is this a person attack? The only thing cringey here is addressing the woman by her first name and the Chief by his last name.

    3. How do you see this as a personal attack? It’s a clear statement of facts, backed up and explained in logical fashion with well-written analysis of an ugly situation — but there’s no personal attacks in this.

  3. Another topic for the lack of transparency has been USFS handling of both federal employees and contractors who contract COVID-19 during assignments. This is a topic Wildfire Today has covered.

    This may also be contributing to the hesitancy to hire on in entry level fire positions or accept out of region assignments.

  4. “I understand that the USFS did not ask for these new reforms in classification and pay, but they are here now…..”

    Do these new reforms impact NPS and BLM?

    1. Yes, they apply to all four DOI agencies that have wildland fire management responsibilities.

  5. Dear FS, you’ve lost our trust. We don’t believe you anymore. You lie to us. You burn our lands. You pollute our land, water, and air. You burn down our houses. You pay us crap. You beat us. You rape us. You fire us. You kill our friends and our family. You’ve lost our trust. FUFS

  6. NFFE and GRWFF are lobbying the DOL because the agency thinks everything is ok and we can’t get a dam straight answer out of them. On many occasions we have had to go to the USDA to make shit happen. They just keep kicking the can at the agency level.

    The war on fire is real folks.

  7. I would’ve posted my name publicly. What they can’t control your speech off the clock and retaliation gets you $115,000.

    But of course Hall-Rivera lied under oath. If it’s nothing for Klamath NF Chief Rachel Smith and Klamath NF District Ranger Drew Stroberg to lie under oath in a court of law I’m sure a bureaucrat in the 2nd highest position in USFS Management wouldn’t bat an eye at UT.

    I keep thinking to myself “there has to be a bottom somewhere” in regards to piss poor Management but USFS seem to take that as a challenge.

    Good on the anonymous writer amd especially Bill for shining a light in the cesspool of corruption, complacency and ineptitude in the agency. They’ve certainly made a nice inner circle for themselves.

    1. Cesspools of self serving ladder climbing incompetents….apparently the SPF Deputy Chief flourished in that setting within the WO. No Confidence in any of them. They get away with so much ….the Department of Agriculture doesn’t really care and let the FS roll to it’s own tune because nobody is holding the Secretary accountable.

  8. I would like to know if this is true there was a fire in the north state last on Morgan Summit cased by lightning strike US FS left the fire be cause they are required to stop and return next day. Since when do we respond to a fire and a quit at five in the evening and come back the next day to continue fighting a fire I thought when you respond to a fire you don’t leave until it’s out or until you get back up to replace you if this is true there’s definitely something wrong with the system.

  9. I’d like to add another solution when it comes to transparency and accountability. When hiring the next Chief and his/her deputies, those people should have a minimum of 90 days of fireline experience. It’s already a “screen out” above the GS-4 level, regardless of the discipline (primary fire, fuels jobs, dispatch). That should be a *minimum* for the Deputy Chief, Fire and Aviation Management.

    Decades of being led by a rotating cast of academics and political sycophants who have no experience with the job is what got us here in the first place.

    1. Absolutely correct! The agency is full of academics with no experience, just a resume that full of embellishments and feel good statements!! These are the hires, of the future of the FS..God help us!!

    2. It is an unfortunate truth that the lessons from South Canyon and the resulting Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy have been steadily eroded. It one were to look at the Interagency Fire Program Management (https://www.ifpm.nifc.gov/) and later the FS-FPM direction, you would see that experience IS a prerequisite to the highest levels. One of the the South Canyon findings found that the lack of fire experience at the highest levels was a “Contributory Cause”! But much of that has been abandoned and this is the beginning of the price that we will pay for not learning the lessons of the past.

      “May we all be energized and inspired to be ever aware of the lessons learned from their sacrifice.” South Canyon Fire Investigation Report 1994

  10. Firefighters read this page, perhaps a few others. This news needs a bigger voice, politicians know that if something goes by long enough it is forgotten and so they wait. Today’s political climate has no room for our people. 23 year with the FS, still the best job, serving others, with no thanks. No thanks is needed because I am so fortunate to have a job that allows me to help those that have no idea how to help themselves. It is disgusting how long this has gone on, be safe out there, I will see you alot this year as a DIVS on an IMT1. Look out for eachother, we all want nothing more than to be on a fire all summer…but now summer is 10 months. This job is dangerous as anything, if your gonna do it, do your best every darn time. Keep your head in the game. If they don’t come thru by October, you will all leave and I
    wouldn’t blame you one bit.

    1. I spent 22 seasons as a temp. 1974-1996, and never got above G5, even though I was Red carded as a Strike team leader and class A sawyer. They never made it possible for me to gain permanent. The day there was a public hearing on abuse of long term seasonal employment MY boss made sure I was out in the field and unable to take time off to attend. The USFS has been treating Fire personnel like peons forever.

  11. What a shameful embarrassment this agency is to its employees and the public. It preaches taking care of each other , safety and well-being is of top priority, resiliency this and resiliency that, inclusive work environment … blah blah blah. The employees are probably used to bring lied to by now. It’s just part of the agencies language at this point. I’m starting to believe the people that say this pay raise / classification is just a lie to keep people around.

    The workforce is struggling. People are burnt out and treading water with no support to do the work they love and believe in. Meanwhile the “leaders” are lying to the law makers while under oath with no accountability. Unfortunately, this behavior isn’t isolated to the WO. It’s just as bad at the local level in my experience.

    Support the workforce. All the downfalls and failures of the agency are laid directly on the backs of the employees on the ground who actually DO the work and not just talk about if. The folks still around are expected to keep “making it work” year after year regardless of the direct and indirect consequences to their health and well-being . Staffing / “putting butts in seats” is of top priority no matter the cost…even if it’s at the expense of relationships, health, and quality of life…no one cares about that. They just need to do what the region says to do. No way they would offer truthful feedback…Got to get that yearly bonus somehow..but anyway everything is just fine and we are fully prepared for fire season. Right?

  12. This is not a personal attack. It is just confirmation that the Washington Office is pretty clueless about what is really happening and what the needs of employees are. This is not new. I agree there should be more input from the ground, but??

  13. I suspect the “90%” that keeps getting spouted is missing a big caveat…mainly (probably) they don’t know it and its hard to measure with the way they’re collecting the data but how many are in temp positions that are taking perm positions in that 90% and how many perms are those are moving up?

    Let’s say I have 5/10 of a module filled…so currently at 50% but then 4 personnel have accepted positions in the same module but as promotions. Is the FS counting that as being at 90% because 5 positions are filled “on the books” and they have tentatively filled 4 through fire hire with no idea that those 4 are essentially internal moves? I can’t be sure but I have a feeling it’s a bit of a reason we’re not seeing in the field what they are testifying in congress.

    1. Not a bean counter but…

      What happens when the 4 that committed were from another region? Do you get 90% in one crew, but say 0% in another crew? How does that affect the overall number? I’m just saying this sounds like some fuzzy math to me!

      …and my dad is a math professor and my sister is a math teacher!

      I still think the FS is lying! Just saying!

  14. Way back in 1987 USFS staff were selling on the side shirt and hat merch, with “U.S. Forest Circus”, United States Dept. of Ahats, and the tree was a large screw! Has anything changed?

  15. I know you all are frustrated.. but my question is “how did so much rancor fall upon the shoulders of this one person in the complex ecosystem of the WO.. or what you might call the Randy-Jaelith- Jerry axis?” And “is it appropriately placed there?”
    So I’d like to examine some of the claims in this post more closely.
    Statement 1.
    “Jaelith Hall-Rivera is the Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry, and her boss is the Chief of the US Forest Service, Randy Moore. Jaelith’s department is Fire and Aviation Management, which houses the wildfire programs that firefighters work. ”

    Just to be clear to everyone, the Deputy Chief is a link in the chain from the Fire Director to the Chief. Fire is only one of the areas in State and Private. It also includes (or did as per the Guide in 2014, see below link) Conservation Education, Cooperative Forestry, Fire and Aviation Management, Forest Health Protection and the Office of Tribal Relations. It’s super important to assure a continuing flow of funds to the FS and to States, that any Deputy Chief has the support of the State Foresters. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3813392.pdf

    Somehow I don’t think forest entomologists or urban forestry folks are up in arms about a lack of appropriate experience in their Deputy Chief. But fire is different. I get that, totally. Still, that is the current structure, and has been since forever. I understand that you can argue that fire is the most important and most troubled part of the Forest Service, and deserves its own chain of command. My point is that then it should be reorganized outside of the State and Private Forestry Deputy area so it can have its own Deputy with whatever experience requirements. But again if it is an interagency thing where consistency in pay, treatment, and so on would be good, maybe it shouldn’t be in the FS at all, but a joint Interior-Ag kind of hybrid structure. This is way above Jaelith’s pay grade and Randy’s as well and would have to have support from the politicals. But who knows, though, maybe the Departments are working on it.
    .
    Statement 2.
    “There is a lie somewhere”. A lie is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive.” I would argue that you don’t know, and I don’t know, anyone’s intent. The fact is that a Deputy Chief is prepped by people, the statements cleared by the Department, and so on- again an ecosystem. Oh and numbers from HR.. which probably vary daily and by the exact question asked. And if the intent is to “deceive” what earthly good could come of that? Given that the real numbers will ultimately come out. I’d appreciate it if someone could explain this. And if it’s an honest mistake about a daily moving target, why all the vitriol? Or even possible sabotage by a person that she is taking the hit for.. we don’t actually know.

    Idea 4. “Include an average employee on all planning and workforce related meetings (GS 5-7).” I think that all grades of employees should be included in workforce related decisions, including people who are trying to hire “average” employees. I am less optimistic about one person being able to represent all GS 5-7’s though.. there’s a whole lot of regional and personal variation. Plus each person has their personal axes to grind and what’s to ensure they actually are representative? Maybe a larger team representing a variety of kinds of work (including non-Fire jobs), regional variation, and grades to advise on planning and workforce decisions?

    Statement 3.
    “Why are NFFE and Grassroots Wildland Firefighters lobbying the Secretary of Labor instead of our own agency?” Inter-Departmental lobbying is usually run by the Department not the Chief.

    Overall, I think that it makes sense that DC folks don’t know what it’s like to be a current employee on the ground. On the other hand, people on the ground don’t know what kind of processes or decision space exist for people in the WO. You could call this the symmetric property of not-knowing. I’d argue for assuming the best of intentions for people in all positions, and keep pushing for what is important.

    I understand that many years of frustration have built to this point but I continue to ask, why has Jaelith become such a target when she is only one of a very complex set of interlocking pieces from the Department to the F&AM Director? Why do some presume negative motivations on her part (lying, specifically) and not others? That’s what I don’t yet understand.

    1. To your question “Why is Jaelith the target?”.
      She is the one that spoke the words. She is the leader that built the team that is providing the information that she is providing to Congress. She is the public servant that makes a six figure salary to provide accurate information to Congress who in turn provides the fiscal support to do what must be done to be an effective land management agency. She is the target because the implementers of the agency have been screaming “This isn’t working!” for years and no one is listening or it isn’t being passed up the chain of command. When you are a leader it begins and ends with you. Success or failure. You may not be the one that did the thing but you built the team, led the training, mentored, and gave feedback . Good outcome or bad outcome. It is on you.

    2. Sharon, Ms. Hall-Rivera signed the document declaring bonuses were paid to 11,300, and also declared to Congress that 11,300 would be an increase from last year. Square that for us.

    3. RE: Statement 2 –

      Yes, but lets look at the SECOND definition from Merriam – Webster: “to create a false or misleading impression”. I think that is much more apt in this discussion.

      Speaking to your decision to only reference the first definition: I am frankly sick and tired of people using this as a excuse to not call lies what they are, which is lies. Trump got away with it for years, so do all the other politicians. If what someone is saying contradicts the facts, and the facts are well known, stop pussyfooting around and call people out on their BS. Start creating a culture of accountability, which the FS is clearly lacking.

      Also, you can’t be serious about “And if the intent is to “deceive” what earthly good could come of that?”. People lie for all sorts of reasons. To cover for themselves, to cover for others, to hurt others, for money, for power, because they are scared, to save their job, as a reflex, to get a reaction, etc. Forest Service employees lie because they know they can get away with it. No one is accountable.

    4. Cesspools of self serving ladder climbing incompetents….apparently the SPF Deputy Chief flourished in that setting within the WO. No Confidence in any of them. They get away with so much ….the Department of Agriculture doesn’t really care and let the FS roll to it’s own tune because nobody is holding the Secretary accountable.

  16. In 2000 in an interview at the tail end of the old growth wars, Ed Marston, publisher of High Country News observed, and I paraphrase; The Forest Service is running out of things to do since much of the old growth has been liquidated. Pretty soon its just going to be a fire department. How prophetic.

  17. Reply to Sharon-

    She is an SES leader and should make accurate statements. Yeah she doesn’t have any fire experience and probably brags about her position in SES- like the gleaming mug shot of just her- come on really? It’s called teamwork in our world and she shows none of that.

  18. 1) I like this and I can follow the math
    2) Good picture
    3) As soon as Randy says something new that seems dubious I promise to make snide comments about him as well Sharon. I appreciate you being active here whether you find the angst directed at the deputy chief warranted or not and you seem very intelligent.

    I do feel, as someone who has had to lead firefighters regularly and has certainly failed at it more than I have fingers, that sometimes it is better to admit when you screw up and own it. If you didn’t screw up but everyone is still mad at you, it is also a good idea to own that. Or just deny, deny, deny and hope the assignment ends and you don’t see everyone again? That is a viable strategy too.

  19. Top-down reforms rarely work without support and engagement from the bottom up. Experience at the lower level positions in the fire service should be a prerequisite for advancement to administrative duties that involve policies of life-and-death consequences. Wildland firefighting is such a hazardous, specialized field requiring unimaginable service and dedication that few administrators can begin to comprehend without having had at least a season or two of exposure to, and immersion in. Talk is cheap if you haven’t walked the walk in a firefighter’s boots.

  20. It is beyond me how the forest service expects ANYONE of any intelligence to risk their life and limb for basically a contractors position that doesn’t pay over a Gs-6 level.. no fire fighter should make less than g8 especially here on the West Coast. I’m disappointed to learn that once again Forestry needs to step back and maybe learn more and let CalFire lead the way. Fire deserves more than what ANYONE and EVERYONE is giving them.. and I’m retired contractor from both the Otero County ( The Lincoln home of Smokey Bear) and Portland Oregon. And I live in Chiloquin Oregon where the Bootleg fire started last year and I saw two years of fires, two years of underpaid, under housed, under appreciated by our government firefighters from all walks of life, states , backgrounds.. busting their butts… And to learn after 12 years some may be making a gs-6 pay …. It’s a travesty and as a tax payer I’m disgusted, as a home owner in a high fire area I’m concerned and as someone who used to work for the government and the forest service I guess.. same s#!+ Different pile.. nothing will change until something gives..

    1. The USFS of old is dead. The only thing that is cared about now is high 3 and the career light blinking green.

    2. After 14 seasons in fire my base wage was $14.82 as a GS4

      I had a FF1-ICT5 qual and ENGB taskbook open. Nothing but great evals but got passed over for people with 1-2 seasons and FFT2…

      In private sector I’m $400 daily rate, they can’t wait to get me ENB Qualified fast enough. ENBQ will make $650

  21. Excellent and erudite piece. This is the most striking line for me.

    “I understand that the USFS did not ask for these new reforms in classification and pay,”

    Let that sink in. Our own leadership did not ask for this.

    They did not ask for pay raises and reform for their employees. They don’t care, it’s the strobing definition of apathy. Now they’re running around acting like it was their idea to boost pay and compel OWCP change! Now they’re acting like they’re on our side! After decades it wasn’t our own bureaucratic leadership that affected change, it was a group of retired mid-level fire people that did! That is a very telling story in and of itself.

    Randy, Jaelith, etc etc, they all need to be removed. There is no confidence in their ability to take this agency into the 21st century fire landscape that is now upon us, none whatsoever. I can honestly say, without equivocation, that I have have utterly and completely lost trust in the USFS to continue to house the worlds largest wild land firefighting force.

    https://chng.it/pVjWczJb

  22. Thank you so much to whoever wrote this and to Bill for posting it. These words are exactly what needs to been seen and heard. Coming from the largest forest in R5 I can say that the we have numerous engines that can not be covered 7 days a week and many that can’t be staffed at all. The ones that are staffed are staffed with 3 and not 5. We are all going to get our a**es kicked this summer. Hopefully those efforts are recognized by upper management. Stay safe everyone.

  23. I was considering leaving my name but the article writer is anonymous and so I think I will make myself that way as well. I am a forester who has spent an entire career working for government service including county, state, and federal. I learned fire “on the ground” and have earned qualifications at the highest levels of ICS. I would like to add something to this conversation that will not be popular but it must be said. Consider this a word of advice from an old guy. I have seen the quality of fire fighter go down over time. I have seen the quality of the work force go down over time and I am seeing a response from an agency that is having its hand forced by people who are unwilling to do the hard work at “all” times. Let me explain.
    I routinely travel across multiple regions and interact daily with “forestry technicians”. A great number of these technicians are timber markers who “hit the brush” daily. They mark timber in the heat, the cold, the briars, and in the most humid, insect, and snake infested units that can be found in America. They do this daily. They are always behind on timber quota because timber jobs are hard to fill. No one wants to work theses jobs. Why? Well they don’t get hazard pay, although they use a chemical compound daily which per OPM rules says they should. They didn’t get a bump in pay this past year although many were fighting the same fires as those who did get a bump in pay. They don’t get PT time daily, or a gym built specifically for them. While the firefighters are lifting weights and polishing chainsaws these folks are going to the woods to get it done. I have even heard primary firefighters say, “there is no way I would fight through that brush or do that job”. However, when the districts need to meet their p-burn quotas who do the FMO’s or the District Rangers call upon. They call on the timber shop, recreation, or the specialists that manage the land and write the NEPA. The fire shop in most districts cannot even meet the p-burn goals without the militia or the other district staff. Yet, when THEY are called on to assist other shops…and I have seen this first hand time and time again..they pull out their PD’s, state they are primary fire, threaten supervisors with union involvement, and in many cases simply refuse to do the work the remainder of the team has to do.
    Timber folks constantly hear about is how important primary fire responsibilities are. Yet the fire shop in many districts spends a vast amount of time sitting. Detailer’s are brought from Region 6 clear across the nation to conduct p-burns all spring. If fire danger is so high year round how can these folks from Oregon, Washington, and California spend the entire winter and spring scattered across Region 8? Now I know there are folks snarling their noses and cussing. However, let me assure you I know after over 25 years in the business there is no where in this nation that fire danger is extreme 24-7 for 365 days a year. That is why there is a team of people that are available to assist. That is why timber markers and specialists carry fire qualifications….so the agency can meet the needs of fire control…when the need arises. I constantly hear people degrade the foresters, specialists, and other non-primary fire positions. Let me assure each young firefighter of something you may not know but you should. Despite how many task books you have completed, how many details you have been on, AARs you have led or been a part of, or how well you can speak the lingo…many of those old foresters, specialists, and former fire fighters have forgotten more about fire than you have yet to learn. They built ICS. This is clearly evident even in IMT involvement. Just take a look at who fills the vast majority of positions on IMT’s. They are mostly filled by retirees because the agency can’t seem to get current personnel up to those quals or it is because people are unwilling to put their name on the line to state people are qualified to do a job.
    Here is the bottom line of my comments. Now I am not saying all primary firefighters are this way but a vast majority are. When primary fire personnel are willing to drop the god complex, willing to assist and do the hard work the other shops are doing on top of their fire involvement, and are willing to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of those fighting the same fires without the bump in pay or the 20 year retirement then maybe I will be willing to be a little more sympathetic to their cause. It’s time the agencies drop the primary fire designation, quit stove piping personnel to do one function and one function only, and return to a TEAM concept where ALL work for the unified goal of managing our nation’s lands for the benefit of all. And yes..this means fire shops should mark timber and maintain rec. sites when fire danger is reduced just like the other shops help in fire control when they are needed. And if those comments offend you perhaps you are part of the problem.

    1. Timber Guy,

      Did you miss the second to last paragraph?

      “But not just firefighters, the whole USFS workforce needs to be brought into the modern federal workforce that exists seemingly in every other agency.”

    2. Well, that’s about as offensive and inflammatory a post as I’ve ever seen. I have done all the ‘other duties as assigned’ (that you described) in my career and continue to assist other areas in the FS.
      Your ridiculous and frankly rude post denigrating our firefighters -who are simply trying to make a career work in most cases – demonstrates clearly your leadership style.
      You claim anyone who disagrees with you is part of the problem? Solid inclusive leadership there from another part time fire god who has the quals (likely pencil whipped) but not the experience.
      4000 FS employees had expired red cards last year- meaning they couldn’t be bothered with the team effort your describe.
      I think the pack test – for incredibly toxic people like you – should be replaced by an ego test.
      While you clearly think ‘your’ work is more important and lecture us all on team work, you display anything but that.
      I wish you well and hope I never encounter you on a fire. But I suppose it would be unlikely for me to run into you- you’re busy in your yurt whining about this new generation, not on spiked on some narrow ridge somewhere.

    3. Timber_guy,

      Your cute little dissertation failed because you used anecdotal fallacies to support your claims. Consult a middle school English teacher if you need assistance determining what an anecdotal fallacy is and how to avoid them.

      You’re the one with a god complex when you claim the vast majority of a group behaves a certain way.

      Near the end of the film “Billy Madison,” actor Jim Downey delivers a short monologue in response to Billy’s answer to a question about the Industrial Revolution. Mr. Downey’s response applies to your comment as well. You should check it out.

    4. Timber guy…This is really gonna bother ya…not only are they not gonna drop the primary fire designation…we’re getting our own series…its law!

      Sure timber works hard…cool story…they want higher pay….they can go get it…Baffles me why they gotta come on here and s*** on our efforts to get our own pay raises and complain. We’re not stopping the other fields from going out and getting their own. As far as helping fire…they don’t have to…maybe if they stop doing it that’ll give em leverage for an incentive for militia. Take a stand! Not sure why its on fire to get it for em. I dont care if timber makes more or less really….not my business.

      Make change happen…start a lobbying group and get a bill introduced like we have the Tim Hart act. Yall can name it after some timber person that was an LODD.

    5. Fire is too complex and too expansive to have fire folks chasing all the other things we do in the Forest Service. Should they help with hazard trees or mow a lawn on a quiet day, sure but there is too much training and preparing to lose focus on getting these folks through the fire year.

      As militia, I can join in and mostly keep up but I can’t remember how to start the pump on a particular engine after doing it once 9 months ago. With my knowledge of timber layout and equipment might I put in better line then a primary firefighter, maybe depends on the day. I am a little slower and a little more scared dropping a hazard tree because I have only done 8 this year and not 50.

      We are in crisis across the Forest Service but even from my Natural Resources view, fire folks have it the worse. We need to pay everyone better but a rising tide lifts all ships.

      Have I felt worthless and not part of the tribe while working with primary fire folks, yep, definitely. Have some of those folks reached out and helped and taken care of my first year militia folks. Yep definitely.

      Are their READs and militia folks that just don’t fit and piss off primary fire, absolutely. Do militia see firefighters playing videos games and chillin waiting for a fire call as we crash brush and mark timber or do whatever all day. Yep definitely.

      As Fire gets more specialized and our more with less gets more with less, it’s harder to keep that bridge that connects us together. To get the work done on the ground we need to keep that bridge together. And maybe we’ll go with a National Fire Service but that’s a long way away. Just think if every District Ranger had 90 days on the fireline, that only happens if primary fire reaches out to the militia and keep us around and trained and includes us even if we are a pain in the ass. We do that early in the career before folks move into District Ranger roles.

      I gotta go to sleep. I gotta go survey timber units in the morning and get some PT in before that. Anyway, tearing each other apart is not the way. Some respect, some help, and some supporting each other is the way. So this fire year, be kind to a READ or a militia folk even if they don’t deserve it and let’s help each other out.

  24. I’ve been retired from FS Fire & LEI for 16 years.
    With 25 of 34 years having been Fire. I am not in the mix now, but can only say “thank you!” To all of you young folks that have exposed this huge boil on the ass of the USFS Fire program. It is long past due, and to the groups & individuals that have made this happen, hats off to you!

  25. Timber guy, waaaay to much to debate there. It comes down to this main point tho, when the bell rings for a fire, regardless of what time it is, fire personnel go, coaching soccer, to bad, we go, birthday party, we go, anniversary, we go…non fire can choose when they go, fire can’t. That is why it’s called primary fire. I have worked in 4 regions, 6 different districts, I have done and have had my employees in fire do every job there is in the forest service. We are called the gophers, because we go forth and do everything that the other shops don’t have enough employees to do. You sound bitte, I don’t know why, but if we have to start paying people more and we have to start somewhere, I think the public would want the ones that are REQUIRED to risk their lives to be on that list first. Thanks for helping….

  26. Geeezus H Christ, people

    I never saw so bitchin and I’m on the side of the firefighter
    I was a GS4 Aerial Photo Interpreter for 10 yrs and it took me 10 yrs to get a degree and interspersed with temp GS4 fire in BLM NoCAL and career conditional GS 5 and 6 on two different refuges

    I understand low pay, disrespect and MOVING on to different industries
    AND I STILL run into both fire and non -fire USFS types

    Guess what? Both jobs are necessary ….glad I survived US Army AD, Guard and Reserve…
    Teamwork ….bioootches

    Apparently there’s alot of luuuuurning to do in the USFS

  27. I won’t argue that pay should be better, at the very least portal to portal should have been put into place years ago. But when we apply to these jobs with the FS, we know the pay we are getting, we know we will be sleeping in tents eating crappy food when our state partners are hotelling up and eating in restaurants. You can’t expect to make the same as all risk state, county and city depts. But that’s what everyone wants to get. They respond to wildland, structure, traffic accidents, hazmat, and medical aids. We are strictly wildland, and can run TCs and medicals when necessary, but that isn’t our mission. When you accept the job offer, you accept all this. You don’t take a job at McDonalds and then start complaining about the pay and working conditions. You know what you are getting into. If you don’t like it, then apply to the state, county, and city departments.

    1. This is a specious arguement. Just go somewhere else because you knew what you were signing up for? Come on, man! Get out of the 18th century thinking regarding labor rights. Values go beyond the price of capital commodities to be exchanged on the market. Keeping costs or taxes low though the exploitation of workers who put their life on the line is an outdated philosophy. City and wildland Firefighters alike need to be paid fairly for the risks they take protecting all of our treasured property, public or private.

    1. Exactly my thoughts. The only way REAL pipehitters sleep in a tent is if it’s in a Cat 5 hurricane…and raining anvils. Tents are for FFT3’s.

  28. Timber_guy,

    Did I go on “Timbermarking Today” and bag all over your job? I’ve done timber marking, tree-planting and other non-fire gigs on the shoulder seasons. It can be tiring and monotonous, but it isn’t 14/16s on the Klamath cutting line through poison oak. So pump your brakes dude.

    Jumping Ship,

    The expectations of wildland to do all-risk depends on what there is in the area available. You can’t unequivocally make statements about that or even come close. Rural areas lean on us to fill all sorts of gaps, including SAR, shorthauls and whatever else we happen to run into. A lot of places don’t have the infrastructure like the larger metropolitan areas. They use IMTs for all risk as well. They had BLM and FS doing work during 9/11, hurricanes, space shuttle crashes etc. It isn’t going away either.

    On a more basic level, no…. you don’t always know what you signed up for. The PDs we have even have the whole “other duties as assigned” caveat in there. Really. Those are the words. Mission creep happens, and one day you are wearing an SCBA or dangling on a rope doing a medical under a helicopter and had no idea you were going to do that 10 years down the road when you first got the job. I have no idea what the hell they are going to ask me to do each year.

    On another note, has anyone seen all the new jobs or details or they are flying to manage all the money we just supposedly got? They are advertising regional level coordinator jobs specifically for the bipartisan bill. I just saw advertisements yesterday popping up on my gov email. Trying real hard to be positive, but how many more managers are we getting? Starting to look like a big virtual pants-off party.

  29. In my book, Militia Bro got it right when he mentioned “a District Ranger spending 90 days on the line,” and here’s why I say that. What are the Fire Quals of today’s USFS District Rangers and or Forest Supervisors? Same goes for District Managers in BLM and various levels within the National Park Service? What percent of them have almost zero “on the line” experience and elevated Quals so that they know what they are signing off on when an IC comes to town to fight “their fire?” Could this be, in part, why so few Line Officers ever call for smokejumpers for initial attack on remote fires? How many of those Line Officers make it to Fire Camp and on-site visits with the IC to check the status of the fire or see what other initial services they might provide; after all, they know their own unit better than incoming personnel regarding such important aspects as: structure locations, trail access, cattle on the range, Critical Habitat locations, private inholdings, etc and much more.

  30. Cesspools of self serving ladder climbing incompetents….apparently the SPF Deputy Chief flourished in that setting within the WO. JHR just the latest in a continum of fools, fakes, and tricksters. No Confidence in any of them. They get away with so much ….the Department of Agriculture doesn’t really care and let the FS roll to it’s own tune because nobody is holding the Secretary accountable. These leaders fuel the waste, frauds, lies, and insanity in power centers like the RO and WO. We need more fuel reduction in those places before the agency implodes.

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