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CENTRALIZED  FIRE  &  FIREFIGHTER  RETENTION

From TheySaid, 5/24/08
in response to SMOKE who suggested one fed fire organization.

SMOKE,

I suggest you take your idea of a centralized fire organization seriously; and your ideas and involvement are needed.

Your idea is a good one and one that has been talked about many years. It’s one of many outstanding possibilities. A Fed Fire agency would have responsibility (with oversight) for our own budgeting, training, fiscal matters, agreements, HR including hiring and benefits. We would adopt a dynamic approach using the options currently available to federal employees to improve pay, facilities and mission. An agency committed to improving communication up and down the chain-of-command. Best of all, we could leave behind those confusing national directives with weekly contradictory letters of direction, regional supplements and local unit directional twists. Fire Managers would then create new direction that is clear, concise, doctrine principled, coordinated and communicated to all. The best reason to reorganize is to cut the current multi-layer bureaucracy. As the new agency develops and grows, we would need strong disciplined and principled leaders in place to minimize the development of a new bureaucracy. 

What's in the way of all this? Many things and the #1 issue is the old guard within each of our agencies. Secondly, the other issue in the way is some of us. Some of us don't want change within fire management at our Parks, Districts and Forests. They have it pretty good and change brings confusion and uncertainty. I talk to people everyday that are worried about change and feel secure in the comfort zone. However, we should think about the change that has occurred with land management since these agencies were formed. Population has exploded (WUI) and public priorities have changed. As a federal fire agency we can still implement each unit's land management priorities. We can be a centralized agency that works with local units to ensure we continue to implement LMP priorities. A fed fire agency can support WFU on the SQF, YNP and KNF, while at the same time protecting communities in So Cal WUI. We have this capacity. 

Because of internal resistance within some of us and those old guards who write policy papers and increase RULES and REGULATIONS every day, this will be a rough road. However it's a road that needs to be driven. As a Forest Service employee, it might be more realistic to make change within the Forest Service first and then see where that road takes us with the other agencies in the future. Conceptually speaking SMOKE, you’re dead on. Realistically speaking we might need to take some baby steps first. Although some parts of Forest Service Fire Management are working well outside of R-5, some areas outside of R-5 are seeing a similar implosion of the fire organization with similar issues. It might be best for Forest Service Fire to break away or at least centralize, blaze the trail, learn from the mistakes before we join into one fed fire department.

The Old Guard in Washington needs to remember one primary benefit of allowing for a centralized fire organization or one large fed fire organization is our Line Officers may go into agreement for protection with anyone they choose. They may pick the most cost effective and productive fire organization available. I have no doubt about whom that group is, however it’s important that any new organization not lose sight of the founding principals of physical fitness, crew cohesion with diverse skills and strong leadership while managing emergencies. Skills that include jumping or rappelling into the middle of a wilderness, implementing coyote tactics with our crews, managing feeding stations and a morgue outside of New Orleans, a structure protection assignment in the WUI with our engines or looking into the eyes of our younger employees who are usually the ones each morning doing the inspection on that trauma kit because they will be the first ones to reach for it at that head-on collision in the afternoon. The diversity of assignments for those of us managing emergencies on and off federal land has never been greater. This diversity makes us unique; it's our trademark, our brand. It's in our blood and it's those slides we depend on even during this horrific crisis. This tradition is one reason we look forward to the next shift. It's what keeps us hanging on for that day when things get better. 

What Former NPS Cap'n posted is happening everyday, everywhere. We are seeing the very young (those getting started) and the very best (those with years of experience) leaving because of complete mismanagement. We usually think about the day to day retention effects of this mismanagement. However, imagine the long term potential effects of today’s losses on the future. Was that young Firefighter who just resigned the next Gleason or Quintinar, Shulman or Swartzlander, Walker, Oplinger or OA? The next Hawkins or Husari, maybe the next Dietrich, the next Misery Whip or the next “Just a Hotshot”, BLMboy, the next NorCalTom? Perry or Perkins or the next Linane, Lobotomy or Larsen? We will never know, however what we do know is; everyday a Federal Wildland Firefighter turns in his or her gear, shakes the hand of the Captain, Superintendent or Chief and simply walks away.

What progress have we seen since that cold week in December, 2007 where the theme was; “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” We have seen lies, perjury, false reports and charts developed in a backroom and presented during an unorganized video conference call. We have seen a hastily written email (an extension of the unorganized conference call) sent to selected Line Officers (not to all employees) from a Deputy Regional Forester asking for the names of those who are leaving so maybe we can cut a deal (disgusting). Additionally, we have seen the faces of more of our friends both young and experienced simply walking away. GONE........... 

To borrow a few lines; “We are the change we have been waiting for.” We must continue to believe in our collective ability to bring change to this current situation. We shall not stop, we shall continue to email, we shall make those calls, we shall maintain professionalism and we shall remember the hard work of that man in Idaho, that man in No Cal and that man in So Cal who fight for our issues everyday. We shall not stop until SMOKE’s weekend day-dream becomes our reality. Or until we can develop a centralized organization that allows us to manage emergencies with fully staffed modules while fulfilling the expectations and increasing the confidence of the public in our ability to provide a truly diverse, multi-skilled, all-risk organization. 

We will succeed, because we are right!

Never Forget BLACK TUESDAY

 

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