A decision by newly elected President Trump to freeze all federal government hiring has Forest Service employees wondering if they will be able to bring in emergency help during fire-fighting season, reports the Missoulian.
On Monday, Trump issued an order stating, “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.”
"The Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) may grant exemptions from this freeze where those exemptions are otherwise necessary,” the order continued.
According to National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Council President Melissa Baumann, Trump's decision may make the Forest Service's job tough with hiring for permanent firefighting positions beginning next week at job fairs.
“We all had a hard time just trying to get hold of the executive order itself yesterday,” Baumann explained. “We’re waiting to see where the chips fall.”
Baumann added that the Forest Service hired about 11,000 seasonal workers in 2015, with at least 6,200 of those being firefighters or having firefighting-related duties. Additionally, many were hired as trail maintenance workers and forest rangers.
Jennifer Jones, a fire and aviation management spokesperson for the Forest Service’s Washington Office also said they were left in the dark by the president's decision, explaining, “We are waiting for further clarification and direction from the Office of Personnel Management related to the hiring freeze. We cannot speculate on the impact of the hiring freeze.”
NFFE Fire Chairman Joe Duran noted the bureaucracy involved in clarifying the new order will put the hiring of firefighters at risk.
“By the time you get your undersecretary and all those people in place, you’re 60 to 90 days behind the scene and off schedule,” Duran explained. “I’m pretty sure they’ll give a (public safety) exemption, but you still won’t be able to staff up in a timely manner. In California, firefighting is already year-round. And in most other places, it’s getting year-round, too.”
According to Wildfire Today, "from the mid-1980s through 2015 the average number of acres burned has grown from about 2 million acres a year to around 8 million."