Agencies go online to recruit seasonal firefighters.
Chuck Russell never had to recruit seasonal firefighters without the help of the Internet. But the fire management officer with the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management in northern Wyoming remembers when managers went to local employment offices in search of qualified applicants. When Russell needs more firefighters, he downloads a list of prescreened candidates compiled by a central hiring office in Denver.
The online hiring effort, called the Fire Integrated Recruitment and Employment System, began as a project for the Bureau of Land Management in 2000. Interior's four firefighting agencies-the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service-standardized their position descriptions and conducted an interagency pilot test two years ago.
The four bureaus hire and train thousands each spring to work during the fire season. This year, they will fill about two-thirds of those jobs through FIRES, which allows candidates to apply online at USAjobs.com, the Office of Personnel Management's employment site. Next year, all the seasonal jobs could be posted online. "From a technology standpoint, we can do it nationwide," says Linda Sedbrook, the program's manager.
Sedbrook says the efficiency of online recruiting enables her four-person office to collect and process applications for all four bureaus. The most important benefit, Sedbrook says, has been filling positions in locations that don't receive many applications. If one area doesn't get enough applicants, then her team can search the system for qualified people in other places. "It has really deepened our applicant pool," Russell says.
The system remains a work in progress, however. In the first years of its use, Russell says, he received long lists of applicants only to find that many weren't qualified. Now he has the opposite problem-the screening process leaves out some good candidates. "One toggle of the wrong button, and it will throw them out or not qualify them," he says.
Another potential problem is that FIRES uses an automated system called QuickHire, provided by Virginia-based Monster Government Solutions, which has a poor track record. In March, the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments shut down QuickHire because it could not handle high volumes of job applications. Monster was working to fix the system, but in mid-April, it remained offline.
The Forest Service also has moved to online hiring. It uses a recruiting system provided by Avue Technologies Corp. in Tacoma, Wash., to fill nearly all its positions, including seasonal and permanent firefighting jobs. The agency is relocating many of its human resources personnel to a central office in Albuquerque, N.M. Officials from Interior and the Forest Service eventually might combine their fire recruiting programs. "It's something that's been talked about," says Heidi Valetkevitch, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service. "It's still on the table."
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