In a Message of May 5 Posted on the US Forest Service’s “Leadership Corner,” the person who oversees fire and aviation management at the agency, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry Jaelig Hall-Rivera, pitched a list of improvements she wants to see for Forest Service firefighters. Here is a summary :
- “Ensure that our firefighters are paid fairly for the difficult work they do”
- “Increase our firefighting capacity, this year and beyond”
- “We must do something about the critical shortage of affordable housing”
- “We must also build sustainable career paths for forest firefighters”
- “A permanent pay increase, a job series that recognizes the unique and dangerous work of firefighters, upward career mobility, a safe and harassment-free work environment, and a resilient work-life balance”
- “Bringing more women into the wildfire workforce and breaking down barriers to help them thrive there”
- “A sustainable and long-term solution to increase wages”
- “I am personally committed to making these changes”
- “I will host a ‘FAM to boots’ session where I can share our latest information and the progress of these efforts”
Towards the end of the essay, Ms Hall-Rivera wrote: “Rest assured that we fully support all of these changes to continue to improve our wildfire system.
She linked to an update which was released Feb. 2 on efforts to address firefighter compensation and classification, initiatives required by an act of Congress passed in 2021. The Office of Personnel Management ordered that work on a new occupational series of forest firefighters be completed “by May. The February update stated that with respect to wages, “the goal is to increase payments on paychecks by this summer, either by implementing this provision or using the reward payment model used last year if we cannot fully implement this provision in FY22”.
Appearing before a congressional committee on April 5, Hall-Rivera said a firefighter hiring event “went very well” and that they were “on pace” to meet hiring goals. Turns out the event hadn’t started yet.
Before another committee on May 5, his boss, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, said their goal was to hire 11,300 firefighters nationwide and the current level is 10,200, or 90%. He said that in some areas the agency had only reached 50% of its staffing target.
In her May 5 message, Hall-Rivera addressed, to some extent, the conflicting testimony:
The information on the status of our fire hiring events that I used at the time left some wondering if we know about it here in Washington, DC. Let me update the record on the emerging picture of these hiring events. As of mid-April, we were at 90% of our planned 11,300 wildland firefighters (including those currently onboarded and pending offers).
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from his book "The Little Prince"
Few details were provided on how, when and by whom this long list of initiatives would be accomplished, other than efforts towards a new professional series and compensation for firefighters. The use of phrases such as “We need to do something about…” may lead the reader to assume that very little thought has gone into that particular goal. Although “purpose” may be too high a description. “Wish” might be more appropriate.
Having attended many meetings and planning sessions where goals were clearly defined, I know that little gets done unless:
- A person is appointed to lead the effort, and they are given the resources to do so.
- A completion date is specified, by which they are required.
Thanks and hats off to Brian.