Firefighters, seasonal park workers to be hired, permanent positions remain unfilled

Firefighters, seasonal park workers to be hired, permanent positions remain unfilled

02 March 2017

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USA —  While the freeze on permanent federal hiring continues, an exemption for some seasonal workers and employees involved in public safety has allowed some to breathe a sigh of relief.

Officials from the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday that wildfire middle-management personnel were hired last week, and they are in the middle of hiring regular seasonal firefighters. Late last month, Yellowstone National Park was told it can hire seasonal rangers.

President Donald Trump ordered a federal hiring freeze within a week of taking office. In the subsequent weeks, a number of exemptions to the freeze were announced, allowing some officials to start filling out their rosters for the summer.

Word first came down in early February that several “critical public safety related” positions would be exempted from the freeze, including Forest Service fire positions. Within two weeks of that announcement, the Office of Management and Budget OK’d the National Park Service’s seasonal hiring plans.

Linda Veress, a spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park, said hiring managers were able to interview candidates and check references before they were cleared to offer seasonal jobs. When hiring plans were approved, they were able to hit the ground running.

Mike Gagen, the fire staff officer for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said the hiring of entry-level seasonal firefighters was virtually unaffected. But the hiring of crew leaders and middle-managers was delayed by about a week.

Seasonal firefighters are hired throughout the spring, but the upper-level seasonal fire workers are hired during a three-week-long event called “fire hire,” where fire managers sift through hundreds of applications for a limited number of jobs.

“We call it the NFL draft,” said Scott Schuster, a deputy fire staff for the Forest Service.

Schuster said they had about 1,800 applicants this year for 175 jobs across Region 1 of the Forest Service, which includes national forests from Idaho to North Dakota. The first two weeks of the process are focused on reading and ranking the different applications. They begin offering jobs during the third week.

Job offers were made last week in Helena, as representatives of the different forests gathered at Fort Harrison. Gagen said they filled nine jobs on the Custer Gallatin, and that they are working on filling about 50 regular seasonal jobs.

“We will be going into the fire season fully staffed,” Gagen said.

Neither Yellowstone National Park or the Forest Service has been allowed to hire any of their full-time permanent positions, and spokespeople for both agencies had no new information about whether they would be able to do so eventually. The freeze prevents agencies from filling positions that were vacant as of noon Jan. 22 or any jobs offered with a start date after Feb. 22.

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