2022 WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER
SURVEY RESULTS SUMMARY
Wildland firefighters (WFFs) have physically and psychologically demanding jobs that can result in social, economic, and health-related stress. Previous studies have examined the physiological and physical effects of a career in wildland fire, but fewer studies have directly analyzed the experiences of wildland firefighters. Here, we survey the attitudes, experiences and morale of wildland firefighters, explore factors that can improve recruitment and retention, and summarize broad patterns in their experiences. We conducted a voluntary anonymous survey of 708 federal wildland firefighters via an online platform over 2 months in 2022. The demographics of our study population was similar to previous studies of other wildland firefighter populations. Respondents reported dissatisfaction with recruitment and hiring processes, insufficient base salaries, poor mental health outcomes, and elevated risks to health and safety. Respondents also reported high importance of training, performance feedback, and work environment. We found significant effects of wildland firefighting on family status. These data can inform federal policy, individual actions, and future research.
WFFs report multiple factors that are impacting their work-life balance, health, personal lives, careers, and personal safety. Negative experiences with recruitment and hiring are reported by high percentages of respondents, and these experiences are likely conservatively
reported as all respondents have successfully obtained positions in federal wildland firefighting. Post-hire, WFFs report that base salaries are insufficient and high numbers of overtime are required to pay bills. In addition, they report safety concerns about working environments and a desire for training and increased supervisory feedback. Mental health, sexual harassment and assault, workplace violence, and impacts on family life are also serious concerns for WFFs. The WFF population is generally less diverse than the broader U.S. population; exceptions are Native American and veteran status.
In 2021, Congress passed funding to reclassify and overhaul the job series and pay rates of federal WFFs; this reclassification has the potential to help alleviate some of the problems identified in this survey. In addition, it establishes a Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission (P.L. 117-58) which is tasked with recommending federal policies and strategies to more effectively manage, suppress and mitigate wildland fires. Despite this, 2022 has seen historically low levels of recruitment for federal WFF positions, with application rate declines of over 50% in some regions (Bustillo 2022). Given the ever-increasing length, extent, and intensity of wildfire season (Scasta et al. 2016), recruitment and retention of qualified WFF is a critical issue for national security. Concentrated legislative, organizational, and agency efforts are needed to systemically address the issues identified in this survey: Our survey provides specific actionable items that can improve retention and recruitment, as prioritized by current federal WFFs. In particular, we provide a framework through which the new Wildland Fire Mitigation Management Commission can begin to evaluate the needs and priorities of WFFs and inform their recommendations. Future studies should examine causal relationships and mechanisms by which the trends we elucidate here are being established and maintained.
Survey questions were selected and constructed through informal interviews with current and former federal wildland firefighters (WFFs) and a search of previously published literature on topics of workplace safety, wildland firefighters, and employee recruitment and retention. The survey questions were designed by an author and included 153 questions with a range of response types, including Likert scales, yes/no choices, open response, and multiple choice. On most questions, participants were limited to responses provided, but were given an ’other’ option where they could insert their own response.
Of the 153 questions, 9 were open-ended questions that allowed detailed comments by respondents. Respondents could opt out of any question and could move backwards and forwards among questions and modify answers as they wished prior to submission of the survey. Questions addressed attitudes, experiences and perceptions about recruitment, retention, training, morale and culture, technology, equity and inclusivity, mental health, leadership, infrastructure, safety, pay and benefits, and work-life balance. In addition, we collected voluntarily disclosed demographic data about respondents. The questionnaire was piloted with a subset of WFFs that reviewed it for clarity, ease of response, and breadth of coverage. All respondents self-administered the survey questions voluntarily and anonymously with no incentives after reading a brief statement about the purpose of the survey.
The majority of respondents took approximately 20 minutes to complete the survey which was available on an anonymous Google form from 1 January through 1 March 2022. Surveys were distributed via forums, internet outlets, social media, e-mail, and through professional networks. We excluded all respondents that did not meet survey criteria prior to analysis. We also excluded or clumped respondents in formal analyses when the number of responses prohibited statistical analysis (N < 5). We examined data components for correlations using linear regression, and when appropriate, analyzed factors as interactive variables. Data were analyzed in Excel and JMP 16.0 (SAS 2022).
Likert scale data were analyzed as continuous variables (Robitzsch 2020) with 1 = highly negative responses and 5 = highly positive responses. Histograms, mean scores and standard errors were calculated for all responses. We examined demographic data including age class (year born: before 1975; 1975-1984; 1985-1994; after 1994), gender (male, female), ethnicity (white, not white), GS level (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+), and status (temporary seasonal, permanent seasonal, permanent full time, other) with Likert scores as a response variable using a multivariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) with alpha = 0.05. We calculated the percent of respondents that selected each categorical response for each categorical response question. Demographic data were analyzed against categorical response variables using Chi-Square analyses (p >0.05). Open-ended responses were not analyzed in this paper.
Responses rarely divided among demographic classes. Gender, ethnicity, grade, status, and age class were non-significant (P > 0.05) effects for the majority of questions. Respondents were 79.7% male, 20% female, and 0.3% non-binary (Fig. 1c). While the respondents were dominantly white (83.6%), Native and indigenous groups were overrepresented relative to the U.S. population by a factor of 2 (4.0% in wildland fire relative to 2.0% nationally; U.S. Census 2012). Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian Americans were all significantly underrepresented in wildland fire relative to the U.S. population (1.1%, 9.2%, and 2.2%, respectively in wildland fire relative to 13.4%, 18.7%, and 7% nationally; U.S. Census 2012; Fig. 1b). Approximately 6.5% of the respondents identified as LGBTQIAA+, as compared to 5.6% nationally (Jones 2021). The majority of respondents had completed a post-secondary degree (76.3%), and 48.3% had a bachelors degree or higher. Military service is higher than the national average (7%, Vespa 2020) with 12.7% of respondents indicating that they were an Armed Forces veteran. In particular, wildland firefighters tend to be more educated on average than structural firefighters (31% have a bachelor’s degree or higher), while mean salaries tend to be significantly lower (mean salary structural firefighter = $52,199; mean base salary wildland firefighter = $28,545 - $37,113). Of all federal organizations represented in the survey population, the overwhelming majority of respondents were WFF with the FS (75.0%. Approximately 7.7% of respondents had left the federal workforce, but had worked as a federal WFF previously. Respondents had or currently worked in positions in 40 states representing five federal agencies. They ranged in grade from 3 – 9+, and were distributed among permanent and seasonal employment statuses.
Outreach, Hiring, and Recruitment
The hiring process for WFFs is not functioning efficiently. The outreach, recruitment, and hiring process are all ranked poorly by respondents. WFFs report not knowing when jobs are going to be open (Likert Mean = 1.96) and that jobs are not open long enough for them to apply (Likert Mean = 2.58) and open at the incorrect time of year (Likert Mean = 1.92). Further, they report that the required online fire resumes are difficult to create (Likert Mean = 2.68), and that the evaluation process for resumes is unclear (Likert Mean = 2.57). A total of 67.9% of applicants report missing out on jobs because they misunderstood the application process or the application process was not clear; another 58.1% have missed out on jobs because of mistakes made by Human Resources made.
Wildland firefighting careers associate with poor mental health outcomes. Conservatively estimated rates of suicidal thoughts and ideation among WFFs (16.5%) are similar to those of structural firefighters (15.5%, 19.2,%, 46.8%; Stanley et al. 2015, Chu et al. 2016). Rates of PTSD (22.3%) are similar to those observed in previous studies of wildland firefighters (12.3%, Leykin et al. 2013; 18.6%, Psarros et al. 2018, Theleritis et al. 2020; 21%, McFarlane 1986). Respondents report rates of ADHD at approximately 4x the national average (16.6% versus 4.4% nationally; Kessler 2004). Our sample population also reported depression (43.6%), anxiety (48.9%), and substance abuse (22.7%) caused by or exacerbated by the stresses of their work. Despite at least 78% of respondents checking one or more boxes associated with poor mental health, only 4.2% of our respondents identified as someone who could be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Pay & Benefits
WFFs’ base salary rates are insufficient, and they often work overtime to compensate for this. 91.9% of the respondents to this study stated that they needed > 300 hours of overtime work annually to pay their bills. 26.7% of respondents needed over 900 hours of overtime work annually to pay their bills. A total of 67.4% of respondents have broken the 16:8 hour work to rest ratio more than 3 times in the last year, 24.6% have broken it 10 or more times, and 8.4% have broken it 20 or more times. Additionally, WFFs reported low levels of agreement to statements regarding pay and benefits (e.g., “My base hourly rate compensates me fairly for the level of risk entail” Mean Likert score = 1.39/5.0; strongly disagree) and high levels of agreement about statements about increasing pay improving retention (e.g., “An increased hourly rate would improve my retention in wildland fire.” Mean Likert score = 4.8/5.0, strongly agree). Overall, having a healthy work-life balance is not something that WFFs have high levels agreement with.
WFFs value training opportunities, feedback, and the quality of their working environment. A belief that one’s supervisor is supporting their success in wildland fire is correlated with a supervisor allowing the WFF to have ownership in their roles and responsibilities (R2 = 0.59), making an effort to prevent inappropriate behavior (R2 = 0.33), supporting pursuit of training and classes (R2 = 0.32), and caring about their own work (R2 = 0.30). WFFs feel the most valued and respected as employees when they work in an environment where people are recognized for accomplishments large and small (R2 = 0.27), have a supervisor that supports their success (R2 =0.21), and receive regular feedback on their job performance (R2 = 0.20). WFFs state that their retention in the field could be improved with better access to training opportunities (Likert Mean = 4.31, agree) and clearer career development paths (Likert Mean = 4.36, agree). 44.4% of WFFs have paid for training out unpaid basis. Wildland firefighters often identify lack of access to courses and training assignments as a key limitation in their career advancement.
WFFs experience elevated risks of injury, illness, and to personal safety. Approximately 67.1% of respondents reported that they have experienced an injury or illness as a result of their work in wildland fire. A majority of respondents did report their injury to their supervisor (80.2%); however, most respondents were not satisfied with the way their injury or illness was handled (Mean Likert Score = 2.57; dissatisfied). A range of 9.9 – 13.7% of respondents reported unwanted sexual touching or assault while working in a federal wildland fire job; of the assaults that occurred, 45.3% were perpetrated by a peer, 33.7% by a supervisor, and 21.1% by a subordinate. Approximately 19.9% of women and 11.3% of men reported that they had experienced threatening or hostile behavior to include physical contact (e.g., fighting) at work; of these behaviors, 62.6% were perpetrated by a peer, 27.0% by a superior, and 10.4% by a subordinate.
Wildland firefighting has a significant impact on family status. Wildland firefighters divorce at 17.4x the national average (40 per 1,000 for wildland firefighters versus 2.3 per 1,000 for the U.S. population; Curtin and Sutton 2020). Female WFFs are significantly less likely to have children than male WFFs (81.3% childless female WFFs versus 68.2% childless men; Chi Square = 11.20, P = 0.0037), and are also significantly more likely to be single than male WFFs (67.6% versus 56.6%; Chi Square = 7.82, P = 0.0201). Rates of childlessness in female WFFs are also significantly above the national average for adult women of all ages (81.3% versus 54.9%, Martinez et al. 2018). Most wildland firefighters do not feel that they have access to affordable childcare (Mean Likert Score, Female = 1.78; Mean Likert Score, Male = 2.10), and access to affordable childcare would be a key factor in retaining them in wildland firefighting (Mean Likert Score = 4.10, agree).
Strategies for Improvement
This section provides ten strategies that federal agencies can implement to improve
working conditions for wildland firefighters. The weight of stressors experienced by WFFs is
overwhelming and is reflected in poor retention among the federal fire service ranks: Our
survey specifically recruited participants that were current or former federal wildland
firefighters and was circulated in networks and outlets that targeted these individuals. We
found 8% attrition from the federal workforce (including 5% of respondents that had left the
career field entirely), and this is likely to be a severe underestimate of the actual numbers, due
to our survey methods. Hiring and promotion challenges, difficult working environments
beyond the expected rough physical conditions, poor compensation, poor work-life balance,
and suffering physical and mental health all inhibit recruitment and retention of WFFs in the
Wildfires are expected to happen throughout more of the year, be more intense, and
impact more of the United States as climates continue to change. Thus, maintaining a robust,
healthy, and prepared wildland firefighter workforce should be an issue of national safety and
security. Our preparedness to safely defend our domestic assets (e.g., human life, property,
natural resources, and infrastructure) will inform our ability to maintain reliable supply chains,
safe travel, and healthy environments for our citizens. Although there is no way to eliminate all
risk of injury or death for WFFs, this survey has uncovered several themes in employment
satisfaction that can be addressed to help recruit, retain, and improve working conditions for
current and future wildland firefighters.
1. Provide the Right Pay for the Right Job.
The most immediate, tangible, and meaningful improvement to wildland firefighter working conditions that federal employers can make in the short- term is to increase base pay to a living wage.
Entry-level wildland firefighters (GS-3; high school diploma, no experience) make $11.86 - $15.42 per hour in base pay. A GS-5 firefighter makes $14.89 - $19.36 per hour in base pay: By the time a firefighter reaches a GS-7 pay rate increases to $18.45 - $23.98. While overtime and hazard pay can increase this hourly wage (1.5 x base pay rate for overtime; hazard pay is a 25% increase in base pay), this means that many wildland firefighters are in a situation where they must work incredibly extended hours in high-hazard jobs to make a sufficient wage to support themselves. Further, a portion of the wildland fire workforce works in temporary seasonal positions and even in permanent seasonal wildland fire positions, furloughs can common be 26 weeks (13 pay periods) long, both conditions which further intensify extended working conditions during fire seasons. In June 2021, President Biden acknowledged the need to, “permanently get federal firefighters a better deal, including improvements in their compensation, their benefits, and their work-life balance,” when addressing the Western Governors Association. In November 2021, the U.S. Congress appropriated $3.3 billion in additional funding to create a Wildland Firefighter job series. Our data overwhelmingly supported this need: Wildland firefighters report financial hardship, the need to large numbers of overtime hours to pay bills, and the inability to afford housing and childcare in areas where they live and work. The high-risk nature of their positions mean that they are often left vulnerable to long-term health risks: Seasonal temporary firefighters currently are not offered health insurance benefits, which increases their financial strain further. Federal wildland firefighters are currently classified as forestry technicians in the federal Office of Personnel Management, a position title that does not recognize the nature of their work, nor the risk entailed in their position. Our survey found that wildland firefighters did not believe that their job title accurately reflected the level of risk their position entailed, and that a job title that accurately reflected their work would help retain them in fire. In 2021, Congress funded Public Law 117-58 which charged OPM with redefining wildland firefighters into their own federal job series, thus changing their position title from forestry technician to wildland firefighter, a major step forward for the members of the career field.
2. Recognize the Strain on Families
Wildland firefighter families experience high levels of stress as a result of the career.
Divorce rates are 17.4x the national average in wildland firefighter families. In a survey of partners of WFFs, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters reports that 88.3% of respondents experience moderate to extreme stress due to the extended absence of their significant other in fire, and 59.9% felt that they were secondary to their WFF’s commitments at work. Over half of the respondents to that survey reported that their spouse or partner was absent from their home for over half of the year. Our study found that 71.9% of WFFs were unable to attend important family events during fire season. Further few wildland firefighters are able to plan their fire assignments, and even when they are not directly working on a fire assignment, they report that their schedules are still inflexible. In addition to these strains on personal relationships, 67.5% of WFFs report that they do not have access to affordable childcare: Female wildland firefighters have children at significantly lower rates than both the national average and then male firefighters. Male firefighters have children at rates lower than the national average, but may be better supported by spouses. Female wildland firefighters are also married at lower rates than male firefighters. When female firefighters must choose between delaying reproduction and marriage and continuing their career, this may create a leaky pipeline situation in which attrition rates become higher (Liu et al. 2019).
3. Increase Mental Health Care Accessibility & Resources
Wildland firefighters are facing serious mental health issues in the line of duty.
Prior to this study, ample anecdotal evidence suggested that substance abuse, depression, anxiety and death by suicide were serious issues in wildland firefighting communities. Over 78% of our study respondents reported mental health issues that they attributed directly to working in wildland fire, but only 32% felt that they had time and resources to seek help with mental health. Addressing mental health requires a comprehensive approach that considers working environment; work, family, and financial stress; safety; and the compounding effects of these factors on one another. Additionally, mental health care requires time and financial investment by the agencies that employ wildland firefighters, including offering paid time off for mental health care, supporting robust mental health care coverage.
4. Combat Unhealthy and Unsustainable Work-Life Imbalance
Pressure from management forces firefighters to work beyond what is mentally and physically healthy.
Open response questions revealed that many ranger districts require employees to work 13 days straight and take 1 unpaid day off, a day spent in unpaid on-call status. This is referred to as a “two-hour callback.” After 14 days on duty, federal firefighters are eligible for 2 mandatory paid days off. By having firefighters work 13 days on and 1 day off, supervisors can circumnavigate the 14-and-2 requirements. Such a shortcut saves districts money, but it robs firefighters of sufficient rest to recover from the rigors of wildland firefighting. Even with the unspoken 13-and-1 policy in place, many respondents (52.6%) reported working over 27 consecutive days with NO days off, paid or unpaid.
Additionally, respondents to our survey reported being asked to break the 2:1 work to rest ratio: At least two thirds of respondents were asked to break this requirement 3+ times in a year. Generally, this means working 16+ hours in a day and being off work for < 8 hours afterwards. In combination with extended days on work, this creates potentially hazardous working conditions that endangers individual and crew safety.
5. Rectify Issues with Workplace Safety
Rates of injuries, violence, and sexual assault need to be reduced significantly through intentional cultural change.
Injury rates are marginally, but statistically significantly higher among non-white WFFs than white WFFs, a concerning trend. Incidents of workplace violence are reported at higher rates among women than men. In addition, experiences of sexual assault were reported by up to 13.7% of respondents, though no correlation to gender or ethnicity was found. Further, when issues were reported, resolutions were not timely nor satisfactory. The wildland fire landscape is a high-risk environment—each year an average of 13 wildland firefighters die in the line of duty, and large catastrophe incidents like the Yarnell Hill Fire (19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives) highlight the somber importance of workplace safety. Wildland firefighters’ work and personal lives often become entangled during fire season due to the proximity of the two: Crews often bunk and quarter together during these periods. This creates opportunities for decreased professional boundaries, which can facilitate increased crew cohesion, but also leaves crew members
potentially vulnerable to unsafe situations. For example, gendered harassment has occurred the U.S. Forest Service for decades (e.g., Weisner 2018): Cultural and policy-level changes need to be made to address these and additional safety issues.
6. Improve Health Insurance Benefits & Timely Injury Compensation
Health insurance benefits need to be provided to all wildland firefighters.
Acute injuries, entrapments, and death are an aspect of this work that WFFs accept as reality. The Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG) is carried on the person of each wildland firefighter and is added to or edited after fatality events, many of which were preventable. Workplace injuries are common, with 67.6% of respondents experiencing becoming ill or injured at work. Of those who reported their injury (N=422), 48.1% were not satisfied with how it was handled. Injured WFFs rely on GoFundMe campaigns to pay for on-the-job injuries because the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs is very slow to process claims. Long term illness is also a major concern. Koopman et al. 2022 compiled an excellent literature review of the occupational hazards and exposures unique to WFFs. Negative impacts on lung function, cardiovascular health, hearing, fatigue and sleep, as well as inflammation and oxidative stress, are well-documented. Additionally, women may experience a significantly elevated risk of miscarriage and pre-term delivery while working as WFFs (Janke et al. 2018). The temporary seasonal workforce is not eligible for year-round health care coverage—Of our survey respondents, this was 36.3% of the population. Permanent full-time (PFT) and Permanent seasonal employees (PSE) do receive health insurance and retirement benefits, while Temporary seasonal employees (1039) do not receive either. This gap creates inequities within a crew and leaves PSE WFFs vulnerable to exposure-related injuries or illnesses.
7. Reimagine the Hiring Process
The current hiring process is cumbersome, obtuse, and unintuitive: Several actions can be taken to easily modify and streamline this process.
All survey respondents were current or former federal WFFs, meaning they made it through the application process at least once, yet they still reported issues with the hiring process. Because “Fire Hire” (a U.S. Forest Service mass posting of open WFF positions) is held once annually, a missed opportunity or mistake can delay an individual’s career by a year or more. Lack of job advertising, poor announcement timing and brief application windows, complicated application processes, lack of access to supplemental documentation, and problems with human resources all contribute to recruiting issues in the federal fire service. These factors directly impact recruitment, but also retention and promotion of current experienced employees. Our results suggest that reforms to outreach, recruitment, and hiring practices could be a leverage point for addressing WFF retention issues. Every federal position is listed on USAJobs.gov; GS7 and below wildland fire positions are not cross-listed to other job seeker sites. Many eligible hires are not aware of the jobs available in wildland fire or have a hard time finding out when those openings will be posted. Only 30.6% of respondents report that they are aware of open jobs in which they would be interested. Fire Hire positions are advertised August-December. When positions are announced in August (the height of fire season), 76.4% of respondents don’t have access to a computer. About half (50.8%) of respondents do not feel that job announcements are open long enough to apply. When they attempt to apply, the USAJobs website presents added difficulties. Approximately half (53.7%) of respondents have had issues with navigation paths, sessions timing out, or other accessibility issues on the website. Understanding how the hiring process works is another obstacle for federal WFFs. Because applications in USAJobs are first scanned (and accepted or rejected) by a computer system before reaching a human hiring official, resumes must be loaded with keywords reflecting the exact language of the job posting. As a result, “successful” federal resumes are regularly over five pages long. Submitting a standard, two-page resume without the requisite technically qualified for the position. Half of applicants report issues with developing resumes for wildland fire positions. Although 42.9% of respondents report understanding the hiring process, only 29.7% of respondents understand how resumes are evaluated by hiring officials. Not understanding how hiring officials rate resumes makes it difficult for applicants to succeed. Even when an applicant submits a stellar resume, there are further obstacles regarding submitting SF-50s (Standard Form 50, federal personnel record), Master Records (National Wildland Fire Coordinating Group qualifications, training history, experience history, instructor history), performance appraisals, and other supplemental documentation. Seasonal employees do not have access to many of these documents when they are not in pay status or unemployed. Even when in pay status, seasonal employees do not have access to government computers. As government computers are the only way to access some of these documents, employees must depend on supervisory staff for assistance; 67.3% of applicants report missing out on job opportunities because they were missing supplemental documentation, the application was confusing, or they made a mistake in the application process.
8. Address Chronic Mismanagement at the Albuquerque Service Center
Centralized hiring authorities are ineffective and unable to accurately evaluate and assess wildland firefighter applications: Hiring authority should be returned to regional or local levels.
The Albuquerque Service Center (ASC), which provides budget and finance services for the USDA, is ineffectual at hiring wildland firefighters In a 2011 congressional hearing entitled Major Management Challenges at the U.S. Forest Service, ASC was noted as “problematic and... demoralizing” for employees (Fong 2011). In our survey, 56.8% of respondents missed out on job opportunities due to Human Resources’ mistakes. Common mistakes include ineffectual evaluation of qualifications and failure to recognize qualified applications. Once applications are miscategorized, the dispute process can often take longer than the application window, thus disqualifying an applicant by proxy. Human Resources personnel often rely heavily on the application keywords and inflexible interpretations of OPM guidelines, because they lack subject matter expertise and cannot make independent evaluations and judgements of qualifications of WFFs. These problems would be greatly mitigated and reduced by returning hiring authority to individual Forests or local Districts. Further, delays in in start dates can create cause difficulty with moving and transfers and can upend financial stability. Almost two thirds (65.1%) of employees report having experienced a delayed start date as a result of issues with Human Resources. One comment reported being hired in November and being delayed multiple times, resulting in a May start date: For many individuals this would be financially catastrophic or would result in an inability
to accept the position.
9. Promote A New Deal for Diversity
Low diversity can lead to high turnover and hostile workplaces for minorities: To improve this, federal employers need to actively engage in increasing the diversity of the wildland firefighting workforce.
Wildland firefighting is relatively homogenous as a field, both in terms of classic demography and respondent attitudes. White males, veterans, divorcees, and Native Americans are overrepresented statistically relative to the U.S. population, but women and other ethnicities are extremely underrepresented. Those underrepresented minorities that are serving as WFFs tend to be satisfied with the way they are treated by their colleagues. They view their colleagues in the same way that their white male peers do. They also report safe bathrooms, that colleagues can pronounce their names, and no differences in levels of harassment or violence relative to their white male peers. In 2018, the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) reported on widespread sexual harassment and discrimination among female WFFs the U.S. Forest Service. A 2020 study by the U.S. Forest Service found that 75% of women had felt out of place as wildland firefighters due to their gender, and a third of employees believed that personal characteristics (race, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, family caregiver status) had negatively impacted their ability to obtain a job or promotion (Cerveny 2020). Meaningful organizational-level change will require leadership to invest in training and work with staff to create long-term attitudinal shifts. Additionally, recruitment of diverse individuals begins in the high schools and college classrooms, and investments in non- traditional education, urban and STEM minority educational campaigns should be prioritized to engage populations who have not previously considered WFF careers.
10. Build Organizational Trust Through Empowering Local Units
Wildland firefighters are loyal and hard-working members of their crew,their profession, and their organization or agency.
Despite difficult physical working conditions, the vast majority of open comments we received were about access to training, the hiring process, or environmental stress. In fact, the top two correlates to job satisfaction were receiving regular feedback about one’s work and an environment where individuals are recognized for big and small achievements. Overall, interactions with an individual’s crew were reported favorably in comparison to interactions with supervisors or higher administrators, suggesting that organizational loyalty is built from the bottom up. Many of our survey respondents expressed a desire for increased hiring authority and decision making a local-unit levels, likely stemming from frustrating experiences with centralized hiring units and leadership, both of which may appear faceless and nameless to WFFs working in decentralized/remote locations or off-Forest. Empowering local districts and crews to make decisions and having increased autonomy will generate additional organizational buy-in and trust, hopefully increasing retention of WFFs.
Please credit Granberg et al. 2022 in the use of these data. Full citation: Granberg, R., Pearson, S., and Verble, R. 2022. Survey of federal wildland firefighters: working conditions, safety, morale, & barriers to recruitment & retention. Report. Available online at wildlandfiresurvey..com