USA — More than 400 seasonal firefighters assigned to Sequoia National Forest are worried that they might not be hired next year.
Members of the Porterville Organized Crew are hired annually during the fire season and during major emergencies to supplement the Forest Service’s regular fire crews.
OC members also can be called out to help fight fires in other parts of the country, fill in at Forest Service fire stations when the assigned crew is away, and remove brush to clear trails and reduce fire risks in the forest.
On Nov. 1, Sequoia National Forest Supervisor Tina Terrel said she sent a letter to the Porterville OC stating that the crew would not operate during the 2011 fire season.
The reason, she said, was that personnel records for at least 130 members didn’t have documentation showing that they completed basic wildland firefighter-training courses.
Whether the documents were lost or never turned in isn’t clear, she said. Those firefighters already have been released from service this year, as the end of the fire season was approaching, and they couldn’t be reached to provide proof that they’d taken the course, Terrel said.
That documentation is important because the Forest Service could face liability issues if a firefighter is hurt or killed in the line of duty and the agency can’t prove that he or she had the proper training to do the job, Terrel said.
She gave her field divisions until Oct. 31 to get their documents in order.
“They didn’t do it,” she said of the Porterville OC.
It’s left OC members, including Visalia resident Dereck Bailey, worried.
“Honestly, I don’t know what they’re going to do about wildland fires [without the OC crews next year],” he said.
The loss of income could be devastating to his family if the Forest Service doesn’t hire seasonal firefighters here next year.
But that’s not likely to happen, Terrel said.
She said she sent her letter to get the Porterville OC leaders to determine which of their firefighters had proof of training and which would have to prove training or be re-trained in order to be hired next fire season.
And it seems to have worked, as Terrel noted: “I got a letter from the fire staff. They can get it done by Nov. 17.”
If this deadline is met, Terrel said she likely will rescind her announcement before Thanksgiving.