Hello all, I am a new member here; I have been a seasonal federal wildland firefighter since 2007. I have fought fires in 8 different states on hand crews, engines, and helicopter crews. I just joined this forum because I wanted to tap into this online community of firefighters to raise an important, little discussed issue that effects tens of thousands of federal firefighters and their families.

Many of you may or may not know that federal wildland firefighters including smokejumpers and hotshots that put their lives on the line to defend life and property are not actually formally recognized as "firefighters". They are called "forestry and range technicians." They spend months away from home and family to defend life and property but are not compensated for much of that time. For at least two decades firefighters that work for five different federal land management agencies (USFS, BLM, BIA, NPS, and FWS) have been fighting for proper classification, fair representation by the media, and for compensation and working conditions that are on-par with private, city, and state agencies. Systematic abuses of wildland firefighters as a way of cost savings schemes, are commonplace among the federal agencies. For example, firefighters are often ordered to show unpaid lunch and dinner breaks while working on fires, or they may be taken off the clock while they are spiked out overnight on an active fire line. Unfortunately an age-old, hardened can-do work ethic, and our low profiles as public servants contribute to little change in these practices.

A bill entitled the Wildland Firefighter Protection Act (HR 2858) was recently introduced to Congress, but unfortunately it stands little chance at being enacted unless there is enough media and public support for it.

Do you think federal wildland firefighters should be treated and paid comparably to their private, city, and state counterparts?

If not, what makes other departments more deserving?

Sign my petition to stand with federal wildland firefighters.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/wildland-firefighter?source=c.fwd&...


Thank you for the support!
-Lindon

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Will do.

Good luck in this endeavor. No group deserves to be called firefighters more than the full-time wildland crews.

Much appreciated Norm! To many it doesn't seem like a big deal because the public still considers us "firefighters" but I'm sure you know how deep policy runs when it comes down to pay and treatment: the Feds will do anything to penny-pinch in all the wrong areas. Thanks again.

First of all I did sign the petition and hope that things do get better defined by the govt. Although at this point there seems to be more partisanship and bickering to see anything come out, but considering the devastation of wildfires and the loss of several wildland FFs, I also see this as a good wake up to the idiots in charge to show some bipartansship.

 

On the flip side of things, is firefighting the PRIMARY job of many of these FFs in question? What are the parameters that surround the jobs? I seriosly don't know enough of the wildland aspect in regards to FF. I spoke with a pilot for CALFIRE a couple years ago at an IAFF function, but this particular aspect didn't come up. However, his primary job is that of a pilot and really not the same as a FF on the ground. I know there are forest rangers etc who also do wildland FF, but again the FF component is not the primary job. I understand that many of those who do work as wildland FFs tend to do so as a seasonal employment and have worked alongside some of those who do wildland FF as a side gig. So I guess when it comes down to the actual topic and reclassifying the jobs, what does this really do? What changes?

 


Do you think federal wildland firefighters should be treated and paid comparably to their private, city, and state counterparts?

 

Depends. Asking such a question doesn't really delve into the many different aspects involved. As a primarily structural FF of a municipal dept, we still train and do some wildland FF, albeit, on a limited scale, yet wildland FF is another component to the myriad of other tasks I'm charged with knowing. My pay is comparable to other depts of this size and comparable with the jobs that are done, is it really the same thing that those in the federal wildland FFs do?

 

Wildland FF tends to be more of a seasonal aspect. While there are years where one can be very busy, there are those that aren't so much. I know of folks that are ready to go if called for a larger wildfire, but many of them never really were called out for a large fire. Why compare a seasonal job to someone who has a fulltime job as a municipal FF?

 

When it comes to volunteers, there are may vollys, especially in rural areas, who also do wildland FF and don't necessarily see the same compensation as even those current federal wildland FFs see. What makes a federal wildland FF different from someone like that?

 

In my state the DNR is the primary wildland firefighting entity. It seems to be run similarily to the federal wildland FF where there are those who hold jobs within the DNR that respond to wildfires, but it is not their primary job. The DNR also works alongside those rural depts etc for wildland operations, but nothing (I know of) denoting those rural FFs fall under the DNR for compensation. I know of a couple guys I work with who also operate with the DNR for wildland FF, but again, they are temporary employees and not the primary job.



If not, what makes other departments more deserving?

 

More "deserving" implies that all other aspects involved with a municipal FF..... (private tends to deal with a brigade and not necessarily on the same compensation level as primary FFs, and state tends to imply that there are state FFs, but doesn't necessarily apply across the country).....don't factor into that of what a federal wildland FF does. Essentially you are asking people to defend their compensation within their jobs. Is that really fair? Is a federal wildland FF doing structural FF and all the training that corresponds with it? Are they providing EMS? Are they providing technical rescue? Are they conducting fire inspections, public education. etc? Answers most likely are no. Essentially you are trying to compare apples to oranges, which isn't the case at all. The primary duties conducted are really not the same. Does this mean that a municipal FF is more "deserving"? Not necessarily, but the compensation and benefits justifies their primary job and the multitude of parameters involved.

 

Now, I'm not against having a better definition and better compensation for those who are employed as a federal wildland FF when they are called upon. I understand they are enduring hardships and time from family to save lives and property. I understand they train and put their lives on the line in the course of their duties. What I disagree with is believing that a wildland FF is doing the same duties I'm charged with in regards to the job components to sit there and have a comparison made as to why I would say I (a municipal FF) is "more deserving" of compensation. There are many volunteers who aren't even compensated to the same rate I am and they are compensated even less than a federal wildland FF. Asking to justify that aspect is BS in my opinion. I definately see a reason to push for better classification to the govt, but don't try to pit different FF aspects against one another to push for it.

John, if the "primary" job of a federal wildland firefighter is not to fight fires and provide emergency assistance than what is it that you think our "primary" job is? (And I will respond to the other points you raise as soon as I can)

The question pertains to the current classification in regards to terms like "Forestry and Range Technicians" and other such termed jobs. Since your push here is to have the classification changed, then that is why I asked what the PRIMARY job is. My point here is that one can be a forest ranger or DNR warden or any other type of job and they also perform wildland FF as part of their job. Wildland FF is not necessarily the primary job.

 

There are also many folks who are trained in wildland FF and ready to go if called upon in the terms of a seasonal capacity, but again the primary job in which they do is not FF. Much like a volunteer FF, their primary job, in most cases, is not a FF, but farmer, mechanic, shop owner, etc, etc. Those volunteers do fall under certain terms and definitions when they are operating in the capacity of a FF, but don't necessarily get the same benefits and such as a career/municipal FF does.

 

You're comparing apples and oranges when you phrase the questions they way you are. You essentially seem to be alluding that a wildland FF is doing the same as a municipal/structural FF when it comes to comparables. What you also omit, is a significant portion of wildland FFs who aren't receiving really any compensation whatsoever, in the terms of the rural volunteer FF. It doesn't seem like you are accounting for the bigger picture when asking the pointed questions you are. 

Hey John, thanks for signing the petition. First time posting here for me and just wanted to make it a little more clear for you.

1. Yes, my job is primarily FFing. It is actually 100% firefighting. If we are not on a fire we are either training/ holding classes about different aspects of wildfire or go out and do fuels reduction work for fire prevention. (We cut large fuel breaks/burn out areas/remove heavy areas of fuel that are prone to burning on our forest).

2. So the way we are paid now is hourly with a base wage. We work 5 days a week for 40 hours(some work 4, 10 hour days). When we go to a fire we are compensated an extra 25% which is referred to as "hazard" pay. While on fires away from home we are paid only while working on the fire line and we receive overtime pay for the hours we work over 8 hours in a single day or if we work on our scheduled days off. We go to fires for a maximum of 14 working days and then add on however many travel days to and from the fire there are to that. So for example, this season so far my longest trip was 18 days. We spent 4 days traveling and 14 working. There are no days off during these fires. Even though we are still on the fire and away from home we are taken off the clock every night in fire camp. This isn't a hotel we stay in, we sleep in the dirt with a sleeping bag. Often times we don't make it to fire camp and have to do what we call a "spike out". We are given minimal support, and usually only have MRE's to eat for every meal for the duration of our spike out. During "spike outs" we are also taken off the clock in the evening. The bill we are trying to pass would give us pay for 24 hours a day while we are on fires instead of taking us off the clock in the evenings when we are still working at the fire.
3. This isn't asking for a base pay raise, we are trying to reclassify the job so we can be paid 24 hours a day, which we call "portal to portal" while we are on fires and away from home.

4. We go to a lot of fires. And a lot of big fires. I have been to 15 fires in the past 16 weeks. Most of which were over 1,000 acres the largest being well over 100,000 acres.

5. So I think what was unclear is when asking for comparable pay to other agencies, we aren't asking for your pay year round 24/7. We know we don't do all the other facets of FF like you guys. We simply are trying to get compensated while we ARE on fires and ARE away from home. We aren't asking to be compared to you guys when we aren't on fires. But when we are on fires, comparable pay would be nice. This bill would be huge for us because we would get paid from the moment we leave to go to the fire, until the moment we get back home.
To clarify a bit more, this is a full time job. There is no side job. We work as FF full time year round but for some it is for 6 months then they are laid off until the next season. During their 6 months they work full time. Usually around 700-800 hours of overtime in their 6 month span.

The engines where I live, San Diego, do respond to medical aids and also have structure gear just an FYI for that also.

Basically, we get minimal pay when we aren't on fires and that's fine. We do ffing work that pertains to wildfires only, but still wouldn't mind being considered ffs not a forest technician. Forest technician is a term from way back when federal forestry workers did everything. Forestry and fire wise. Nowadays the fire impact is on a much larger scale and even though we only work as FFs we are lumped into the forest technician category. We are firefighters, not forestry technicians. Moral of the story, when we are on fires, we would like to be paid as firefighters.

John,

First off, thanks for clearing some more of that up. As I mentioned in my first post I don't know a lot when it comes to the wildland FF aspect of things. Much of what I do know pertains to talking with those who do wildland FF on a limited/seasonal basis, or is part of their primary job duties.

 

The aspect in regards to compensation is more along the lines of how the questions were worded, seeminly pointed, as opposed to inquiring opinion. As it is, FFs and essentially public workers in general, have been too often called upon to justify their wages and benefits for their jobs, by those who have no understanding of the job, but believe they know what type of pay is best. When it comes to this, it seems to become another aspect of the same pitting FFs against each other. That was my original thought in the matter and why there is more to look at than just pay and compensation of a municipal FF and federal wildland.

 

When it comes to the actual compensation aspect in which you referred, the question I have is how does this differ from those that are part of a FEMA task force for USAR? I believe they are falling under the same parameters in which you described, when they are tasked away. Even if these are municipal workers, they fall under the federal aspects when they are sent out, they also camp out, eat MREs, etc while they are at an incident. They are not being paid OT for the entire duration in which they are out and if there is some form of "bridging compensation" between the member and their primary employer (municipality), then that is something worked out at the local level, not federal.

 

I am a member of our local USAR team, but much of the training I received was at the state location. There is a state team, which is similarily run, by how you describe. When there is state training etc, the member from a municipality is then an "employee" of the state. The only thing (from my dept at least) that a state member gets is time off from the job. The compensation they receive from the state is very similar to what you describe (sans the travel and prolonged deployment aspect since the state team has never been called up as of yet). When doing training for a week or so, the compensation is only based on the 40 hour week, broken into shifts, no compensation for downtime, and food is MREs or limited catering (since most training is at the same place). There is no compensation for travel time, mileage, etc.

 

Prior to implementation of a single state team, there were divisional Task Forces where an area conglomerate was established to be a regional response for USAR. When that was first initiated, there was OT paid for training that was off duty, but that was by dept contracts, with a grant from the state. Most of the training was day training (8 hrs) for a week to meet the criteria for rope ops and tech, trench ops and tech, confined space ops and tech. The shoring and concrete and steel was at the state location and one was only compensated OT for their off days. If they were there over the course of their regular duty, they received no compensation whatsoever. So if a guy was sent to train on (for us) a Monday, Wednesday, Friday round, they only were paid OT for the Tuesday and Thursday, and only for the training time (8 hrs).

 

 

So what I'm saying here is that while it seems there is definately a legitimate gripe that you have, the same thing affecting you does affect others in a different capacity when it comes to the compensation aspect. If looking for comparables between a federal wildland FF and that of a municipal, well I would say the compensation is quite similar between what you see and that of a municipal FF who is part of such a team like USAR. Just putting things into perspective.

 

Again, I'm not against what you guys are seeking and bid you the best of luck getting the bill pushed, but just note that such compensation aspects are not just limited to wildland FFs based on their classification. I could definately see a legitimate justification for an "off-duty" stipend when deployed, so there is something for endurring the conditions. Sort of like a company that has an "on-call" status, where there is something extra when in that down period where you could be called upon.

Yes,  they should....petition signed.

just read the post on issue I was on the big windy fire in Oregon where a 19 year old firefighter died on fire line and we lost 19 of our fellow brothers this year which were all firefighters and seen as no other we all are one in this field no matter what area we work if any one  sees us in different light  well pick up bladder bag and pack hose up hill then ask that Question

John, as the other John already did an excellent job at clarifying, the PRIMARY job of fire detection, prevention and suppression units is to do exactly that. Ill address some of your points, and also speak to what is familiar to me as agency scope in the FS in Region 5.

I would say close to half of suppression units are seasonal, but both groups have primary duties of public safety and fire/emergency response. Essentially the main difference on paper (lets say between us and non fed agencies that work the same incidents) is that federal firefighters are not classified as all-risk and still have the overarching parent agency mission statement to abide by. But here arises a fairly substantial misconception: just because it is our mission to protect the wildland (after public safety), doesn't mean we are not trained and tasked to respond to all manner of emergencies on the daily. Where I work in R-5 (CA) USFS firefighters respond to all risk incidents... TCs, Med-aids (fully trauma equipped), vehicle fires, structure fires (with threat to life or wildland), public assists, wilderness rescue... You name it. Being stationed within the Wildland Urban Interface requires of us many more responsibilities such as carrying SCBAs or being trained in HazMat response etc. Every module, be it engines, crews, or helitack all have trained EMTs among their ranks. We are hardly different in the incidents we respond to than local non-federal fire/EMS resources... And we are often first on scene. This being said, federal wildland firefighters in Wyoming, are not equipped or trained to the same degree as those in California as they have different needs. Similarly different regions have different equipment and personnel/training needs based on population, terrain, fuel types etc. Then take a state agency like CalFire, they are a Wildland firefighting force as well (originally trained as a grassland response, hence more training emphasis on aggressive tactics like mobile-attack etc.); over time and with the development of the WUI they adapted to the needs of their response areas (structures, more traffic...) In principle what is so different between the USFS in R-5 and CalFire? Pay, benefits, treatment, work ethic, and agency culture is however VERY different despite the similar duties and responsibilities.

To your statement above regarding limited training for Wildland response: We have limited training for urban response. And as I got to experience firsthand, our training and approaches proved highly effective as we fought fire within the city limits of Colorado Springs last year (might I add that several strike teams of type 1 engines did not engage while the federal type 3 strike teams donned their turnouts and engaged a Wildland fire in an entirely urban setting). Further, as municipal firefighters are tasked with duties that are relevant in their (urban) response areas, federal Wildland firefighters are charged with equally complex scenarios and responsibilities that emerge when you differentiate for example firefighting tactics to address environmentally or historically sensitive areas, areas that are highly visible or political, a wide range of fuel models with vastly different fire behaviors and responsiveness to local weather and topography, areas that are riddled with homes, or ranches, or recreational land users, or native lands, or areas of military operations, or hazardous sites, or.....

I don't think I'm mixing apples and oranges here. Both groups have primary jobs of firefighting (if anything much less so for municipal depts.), and are responsible for ensuring public safety in all situations-- protecting life and property. The only mixed fruit bowl here is treatment, pay and (often misinformed) public perceptions.


As to "why compare a seasonal job to someone who has a fulltime job as a municipal FF?" well, like I said seasonal firefighters only account for part of the workforce; but, many of those seasonals will work nearly as many hours in six months as some municipal firefighters will work in a year. And I'm talking actually working. Federal firefighters are never paid to sleep, uninterrupted or otherwise. A seasonal firefighter during a single season may spend more time actually engaged in fighting a fire than some municipal firefighters will during a decade. Many seasonal firefighters have gone thought fire academies, either Wildland, structural, and often both, and many seasonals have fire science degrees. All fulltime federal firefighters (at least R-5 FS) must go through the wildland academy to be a permanent and many of them spend their winters teaching classes at various fire academies. Someone recently described to me that one of the major differences between a wildland and structure academy was that structure academies are primary geared towards brand new firefighters (more hands on), whereas wildland academies anticipate participants with a pre-existing fire experience- mostly senior firefighter and above- and have higher level classroom focus.

Another role of permanent federal fire management and suppression employees is heavy participation in Regional or National Incident Management Teams that respond to all manner of incidents such as 911 (3 of the 4 teams were USFS) or Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

A major area of federal Wildland fire suppression that is not encountered in the municipal realm is the aviation aspect. I can't really ramble on about this aspect with credibility because this summer has been my first in this area (currently Helitack). What I can say is that having been in and around the FS my entire life (my father has 33yrs in the agency), I was blown away by the sheer scope of the fire aviation management sector. Further, the training and qualifications of both seasonal and permanent fed FFs working in aviation are pretty impressive all around. Even young or new FFs to aviation have to step up and shoulder huge responsibilities on incidents. For example, responsibility for crucial aviation management paperwork and ensuring that load calculations are spot on so that any given model aircraft can transport said loads within safe limits as dictated by elevation, temperature, humidity and forecasted weather variances... These and general aviation policy are things that some first or second year federal firefighters are expected to be versed in.

What makes a federal wildland firefighter different from a volunteer firefighter? We are highly trained professionals that are upheld to very high standards as servants of the public and a technically trained arm of the federal government. A couple years ago I went to fight fires in TX. One of the main points to take away from our day long orientation before being allowed to fight fire in TX, was that many of the volunteer chiefs had less formal training than our first year firefighters. On one fire I went to, the incident commander arrived on scene in overalls, a beer in one hand and his 2-yr old on his knee. It damn near blew my mind. So to answer your question, when it comes to training and professionalism, in many instances just about everything is different. On a separate point, I doubt most volunteer FFs use that job as primary support for a family; for the Feds, that salary is what they struggle to raise a family on.

While the seasonal firefighters are laid off during the colder months, permanents spend their time working mostly on three things: prescribed burning and forest fuel reduction/management projects, taking and teaching classes, and preparing and executing the excruciatingly lengthy and bureaucratic hiring process for summer seasonals. Part of the big issue here are the consequence of dismal retention rates in federal agencies-- which is DIRECTLY attributed to comparably sub-par FF pay and benefits. Most of them love the job and what it entails, but they cant imagine being able to support a family on gvmt wages. So we've come full circle here.

As for pitting one group of firefighters against another, what would I possibly have to gain by doing that? My intention is the opposite. My pointed language is to raise a point that may surprise many, and to get fellow firefighters regardless of agency to help raise up their brothers. Experience in dialogue has shown me that the type of people that take offense to being compared to Wildland firefighters (and im not asserting that you are) are those that feel superior to them. And those who feel superior, usually lack understanding of how far-reaching and intricate the responsibilities of some (in fact very many) federal firefighters are. Ask yourself how many of the folks at your dept. would want to, or be capable of swinging a tool for 16 straight hours a day, cutting hotline in gnarly terrain and doing line spikes for two weeks at a time for a base pay of $11 an hr and no guaranteed health coverage etc...? I personally know firefighters who will be the first to tell you they don't work for the Feds because they would get paid less to work much harder! Did I word my forum post to invoke discussion? Absolutely! And I thank you for participating, I hope more join in soon. This is not about who's better or works harder or who has more training, this is about raising public awareness for how many responsibilities those Wildland guys have, and that fellow firefighters stand up for what's right for their brothers. In this case, what is right is that this piece of legislation gets all the attention that it deserves so it will stand the best chance it can at becoming law. Please correct me on any misstatements I have said. I am here to learn too; I speak of what I know to be true in the agency and region I work in.

This does clarify up more of my questions. The thing is though, what does the reclassifying your job really do beyond title? As I mentioned to John's reply, much of the compensation aspect he mentioned in regards to "deployments" is reflective of other federally backed jobs, such as USAR etc when responding under FEMA. There may be other contractual language etc from those task force members deployed from municipal depts, but that is stuff worked out on the local level, not federal. Essentially they aren't paid for travel days, the 24 hours while out, etc. Just saying there are similarities in your job and what other jobs are compensated at etc.

 

The other question is, how does your compensation etc compare to other federal FFs? What are the differences involved if they may recieve higher pay and benefits?

 

The more I learn on this aspect it seems to me you are looking in the wrong place for comparables when it comes to your job and that of municipal FFs. Even as municipal FFs, there is quite a variety among comparables for depts. It seems like you guys may get deployed to many different areas etc, and at the same time, there are vastly differing comparables of municipal depts between such areas.

 

It seems to me, the focus of comparables should be starting out on a similar level. If you are federally employed, wouldn't it be easier to use a comparable to that of a federal FF as opposed to municipal?

 

Are you unionized at all? Would it be more prudent to organize as a group to push for better pay and benefits as opposed to pushing a petitiion for elected officials to take up?

 

I will say I have a better understanding of things now, than from the original post and I do thank you and John for the explaination. Idon't see an issue, nor reason NOT to be reclassified as FFs, especially if that is your primary job. The issue I see is more about where you are looking at for comparables and perhaps consider contacting the IAFF in regards to the possibility of unionizing.

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