The Angeles National Forest in Southern California recently conducted a four-week Firefighter Academy. The 100 trainees were hired under a fairly recently granted authority of direct hiring for GS-5 Senior Firefighters. This hiring process was approved in order to help mitigate recent challenges in recruiting firefighters. Most of the Academy participants previously had multiple years of experience in wildland fire working for the US Forest Service or other agencies in California or across the country.
Another method for placing personnel into Senior Firefighter positions that has been used for years is the Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, a 3,000 hour on-the-job learning program, which includes a two month-long residential firefighting academy at the Wildland Fire Training Center in McClellan, California.
The direct hire process and the Academy help make it more feasible to achieve the agency’s goal of increasing the number of firefighters in permanent positions to 80 percent, with only 20 percent in seasonal positions. Many of the seasonals who were limited to working only 1,039 hours a year, not counting overtime, will now be in “permanent seasonal” 18 and 8 jobs, with guaranteed employment and full benefits for 18 of the 24 pay periods each year.
A person with knowledge of the program who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the Forest Service told Wildfire Today that the goals of the Academy were to level the playing field, to cover the curriculum the trainees would have had if they had gone through the Apprenticeship program, and to ensure that they all had at least an intermediate level of training along with exposure to multiple aspects of the fire management program.
There were many logistical issues that had to be accomplished before the four-weeks of training began. Those were handled by a Battalion Chief with Engine Captains and Hotshot Captains from throughout the Angeles National Forest. One of the most time-consuming projects was to provide uniforms for each of the 100 trainees upon their arrival. That required collecting clothing size data from everyone, then ordering, receiving, and finally sorting and issuing the garments at the beginning of the training.
The courses completed in the Academy included:
- L280 – Followership to Leadership
- S131 – Firefighter Type 1
- S219 – Firing Operations
- S260 – Interagency Incident Business Management
- S270 – Basic Air Operations
- S290 – Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior
- Applied Skills Wildland Firemanship
- Incident Size-ups
- Sand Table and Simtable Fire simulations
- Helicopter Target Descriptions
- Avenza Setup and Use
- A219 Prerequisites
- A100 – Basic Aviation
- A110 – Aviation Transportation of Hazardous Materials
- A117 – Fixed Wing Hand Signals
- A200 – Mishap Review
- Physical Training Test (1.5mi run, Pushups, Situps, & Pullups)
- CRM – Crew Resource Management (7 Skills)
- Work Capacity Test Arduous Level