We work to ensure an equitably-compensated, well-supported, year-round workforce with a harassment-free workplace, modern hiring practices, controlled risk, and professional development opportunities so the Department of the Interior can continue to recruit, retain, and empower a workforce of thousands to manage wildland fire on public and Tribal lands across the country.
Smiling recruits at a basic wildland fire training course in Idaho: the Department of the Interior employs thousands of people to manage wildland fire across the country. (Photo courtesy BLMIdaho)
5,400: Approximate number of Department of the Interior and Tribal employees involved in wildland fire management
126: Number of official positions working in wildland fire
The Interior Department is continuing its efforts to reform our wildland fire workforce. Supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this initiative will give our employees greater stability, enable them to grow in their positions, and improve the Department's ability to address more extreme wildfires and meet the year-round needs for wildland fire management activities. These reforms represent a generational change for our wildland fire workforce.
On June 21, 2022, the Biden-Harris administration shared details on pay raises and support for the wildland firefighting workforce from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
With our counterparts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service and Office of Personnel Management (OPM), we are making pay improvements for wildland firefighters effective this year. We have identified a way to deliver the pay increases across departmental pay systems and in compliance with federal policies. Interior expects that the first payments will go out in July. We are also developing a long-term solution for future years.
This improvement builds upon President Biden's 2021 initiative to support federal wildland firefighters and ensure they receive a minimum of $15 per hour. Under that initiative, approximately 3,500 of Interior's roughly 5,000 wildland firefighters received $7.6 million in additional monetary recognition.
The Interior Department and USDA Forest Service contributed support to OPM in the creation of a wildland firefighter occupational series, as directed in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. For the first time in 50 years, there is a series that defines the unique duties of wildland firefighters with clear details on career advancement. The Interior Department and USDA Forest Service are now working on measures to implement the new series.
In FY 2021, we converted nearly 550 wildland fire employees to permanent positions. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides additional funding to continue our transition to a more permanent workforce capable of fire response and mitigation work on a year-round basis. That new funding will support the conversion of 1,000 positions across the Interior Department and USDA Forest Service.
We are continuing to fill wildland fire positions each pay period. As of mid-June, more than 5,000 fire personnel were in place, which is more than 89 percent of the Department's goal to employ 5,600 staff in 2022 In April, OPM approved our request for direct hire authority to help more rapidly fill mission-critical firefighting positions, furthering these efforts. You can visit the National Interagency Fire Center website for a listing of fire positions that are currently open.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced changes to its Office of Workers' Compensation Program to assist federal firefighters with certain occupational illnesses by making it easier for claimants to file claims and by improving transparency in how claims are processed.
In addition, the Interior Department is working with the USDA Forest Service to develop a joint health and wellbeing program for permanent, temporary, seasonal, and year-round wildland firefighters to recognize and address mental health needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder care. The program will connect existing efforts and establish year-round prevention and mental health training for wildland firefighters and create additional critical incident stress management staffing.
Along with our partners at the USDA Forest Service, we are developing a strategy to provide expanded training, education, and experiential learning opportunities to improve emergency response skillsets, business acumen, and land management competencies.
Additional information on the pay increases and new wildland firefighter occupational series can be find in the interdepartmental Frequently Asked Questions sheet.
Ensuring that our employees have a safe and professional environment in which to work is not only the right thing to do, it’s the law. The Department of the Interior prohibits offensive sexual or non-sexual harassing behavior against any employee, intern, volunteer, contractor or other non-Federal employee, visitor, or other member of the public. The Department also prohibits adverse treatment of employees because they report harassing conduct or provide information related to such complaints. Read the full anti-harassment policy and explore other employee resources at doi.gov/employees.
The lengthening of fire seasons into fire years creates significant challenges for staffing an adequate response to wildland fire. Seasonal firefighters have long been the backbone of the wildland fire management, but current personnel policy limits seasonal positions to six months or 1,040 hours of employment. In addition, the long days needed to manage wildland fire often mean seasonal employees work more hours in six months (2,500 hours) than their full-time, non-fire colleagues work in an entire year (2,080 hours). We’re exploring partnerships that could increase our ability and capacity to hire additional people whenever the demand for firefighters exceeds staffing levels.
Staff in the Office of Wildland fire have also been exploring ways to develop shared hiring certificates for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture. This would enable more efficient hiring and sharing of qualified firefighters and would reflect the true interagency nature of wildland fire management.
Human safety is always our highest priority: no structure or resource is worth a life. We emphasize the importance of safety in all our required training programs and in daily briefings that take place during incidents. We closely document and track people’s qualifications before assigning them work. We enforce medical standards for physically demanding positions to ensure people won’t endanger themselves or their colleagues. We adjust our tactics to make sure firefighters don’t directly engage a wildfire when risks can’t be mitigated to an acceptable level. We study and learn from our mistakes and look for ways to share that information widely.
The wildland fire community offers a number of online resources where people can pursue additional training and learn through the experiences of others: