Bill Would Help Federal Firefighters Get Career Jobs

A firefighter watches a wildfire northeast of Castaic, Calif., in May. A firefighter watches a wildfire northeast of Castaic, Calif., in May. Nick Ut/AP

Many temporary federal firefighters would be eligible for permanent government jobs under a bill introduced in the Senate.

The legislation (S. 1120) would allow seasonal firefighters to use their experience to compete for career jobs that open up at land management agencies. It would also enable those temporary employees to convert to any “successor permanent positions,” or permanent jobs in the same agency with similar duties and qualification requirements.

Eligible workers must have worked as time-limited or seasonal employees, served one or more two-year stints with a land management agency, and received acceptable performance reviews on the job. The legislation identifies land management agencies as the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Reclamation. There are more than 8,000 temporary seasonal firefighters.

Wildfires are most common from May through October, so many federal firefighters are seasonally employed and often pack a year’s worth of work into six months. The 2012 wildfire season was the third-worst fire season in U.S. history.

“Wildfires don’t operate on our schedule, and we need to make sure the folks who manage our outdoors have the resources they need to keep us safe,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who introduced the bill and is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs federal workforce subcommittee. “This bill will make sure that trained, experienced workers can stay on the job when they are needed the most.” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is a co-sponsor.

Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced a similar bipartisan bill in the House in February.

In July 2012, President Obama directed agencies to extend health care benefits to temporary firefighters under the Federal Employees Health Program.

This story has been updated. 

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