Forest Service Deputy Chief lists her goals for Fire and Aviation Management

Marion Steward
Deputy Chief Jaelith Hall-Rivera, State and Private Forestry, U.S. Forest Service. USFS photo.

In a May 5 post published on the U.S. Forest Service’s “Leadership Corner”, the person who oversees Fire and Aviation Management in the agency, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry Jaeligh Hall-Rivera, laid out a list of improvements she wants to see for Forest Service firefighters. Here is a summary:

  • “Ensure our firefighters are paid equally for the difficult job they do”
  • “Increase our firefighting capacity, this year and beyond”
  • “We must do something about the critical affordable housing shortages”
  • “We must also build sustainable career paths for wildland firefighters”
  • “A permanent pay increase, a job series that recognizes the unique and hazardous work firefighters do, upward career mobility, a safe, harassment-free work environment and a resilient work-life balance”
  • “Bringing more women into the wildland fire workforce and removing obstacles to help them thrive there”
  • “A sustainable, long-term solution for increased pay”
  • “I am personally committed to making these changes”
  • “I will be hosting a ‘FAM to boots’ session where I can share our most recent information and progress on these efforts”

Near the end of the essay Ms. Hall-Rivera wrote, “Please be assured, we are fully backing all these changes to continue improving our wildland fire system.”

She linked to an update that was posted February 2 about the efforts toward addressing firefighter pay and classification, initiatives that are required by an act of Congress passed in 2021. The Office of Personnel Management ordered that the work on a new Wildland Firefighter occupational series be completed “by May.” The February update stated that concerning pay, the “Goal is to have increased payments into paychecks by this summer, either by implementing this provision or using the awards payments model employed last year if we can’t fully implement this provision in FY 22.”

Before a Congressional committee on April 5, Ms. Hall-Rivera testified that a firefighter hiring event “went very well” and that they were “on pace” to meet the hiring targets. It turns out that the event had not started yet.

Before a different Committee on May 5 her boss, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, testified that their goal is to hire 11,300 firefighters nationwide and the current level is at 10,200, or 90 percent. He said in some areas the agency has only reached 50 percent of their staffing goal.

In her May 5 post, Ms. Hall-Rivera addressed, to a degree, the conflicting testimonies:

The information on the status of our fire hiring events I used at that time left some wondering if we are up to speed here in Washington, DC. Let me update the record on the emerging picture from those hiring events. As of mid-April, we are at 90% of our planned 11,300 wildland firefighters (including those currently onboarding and offers pending).

Our Take

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from his book "The Little Prince"

Few details were offered about how, when, and by whom this long list of initiatives would be accomplished, other than the efforts toward a new Occupational Series and firefighter pay. Using phrases like, “We must do something about…” can lead the reader to presume that very little thought has gone toward that particular goal. Although “goal” may be too lofty a description. “Wish” might be more appropriate.

Having been involved in many meetings and planning sessions where objectives were clearly articulated, I know that little gets done unless:

  1. A person is appointed to lead the effort, and they are given the resources needed to get it done.
  2. A completion date is specified, to which they are held.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brian.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.
View all posts by Bill Gabbert

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