There are a number of different fire management positions within Bureau and tribal fire management programs. Some of these positions require the incumbent to possess a minimum level of formal college education. Generally, any position classified above the GS-9 pay scale is considered professional, requiring the applicant to meet the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) basic education requirement for the GS-0401 job series. This job series is known as the GS-0401 Supplemental Standard for Fire Management Specialists.
Information pertaining to the minimum OPM requirements for both the Technician Series employment (GS-0462/0455) as well as Professional Series employment (GS-0401) can be found at the Office of Personnel Management Webpage.
Career Tracks in Fire Management
A career in fire management can be very rewarding, and depending on the personal interests of the employee, can lead to a career in Operations, Planning, Fuels Management, Prevention and Education, and Fire Program Management. The following are examples of jobs related to some of these career tracks:
Operations: Operations personnel can work seasonally or year round, depending on the position and complexity of the program they manage. Operations personnel usually begin their careers working on hand crews, engine crews, or helitack crews. These positions are generally seasonal. Employees who possess considerable knowledge in operations may hold year round positions and manage all unit level operations as Wildland Fire Operations Specialists. These jobs generally do not require formal education below the position of Wildland Fire Operations Specialist.
Planning: The fire management planning function can be a rewarding career for those individuals who possess analytical skills in formulating long term plans and environmental analyses for projects and unit fire program management activities. Individuals who possess degrees in natural resource management, forestry, wildlife biology, and range management often occupy these positions.
Fuels Management: Managing excess fuels in our national wildlands is one of the biggest challenges federal agencies face. Fuels management specialists typically have college degrees or GS-401 qualifying education. These employees are responsible for the development of long term strategic plans for the treatment of fuels using fire, mechanical, and chemical methods. They write environmental analyses, burn plans and other technical documents and then oversee their implementation. Fuels management technicians are the “doers” of fuels management and spend much of their time implementing treatments in the field.
Prevention and Education: Preventing wildfire through public outreach, education, and collaboration is as important as putting fire outs. Among other things, employees in this field work with wildland-urban homeowners to develop defensible space plans to help prevent wildfire from burning down valuable resources such as homes.
Tribal vs. Federal Employment
The Bureau of Indian Affairs oversees fire management activities on Indian Reservations throughout the country. Some fire management programs on these reservations are managed by federal employees (Bureau of Indian Affairs employees) and some are managed by tribal employees. Generally speaking, wages, retirement benefits, and job satisfaction are comparable, regardless of the employer.
OPM Job Series Descriptions
If you are interested in seeing what the specific job duties are for most of our fire management occupations, please visit the Firefighter and Law Enforcement Retirement Team website where you can find all the approved position descriptions.
Interagency Fire Program Management (IFPM)
The Interagency Fire Program Management (IFPM) Qualification Standards and Guide is a federal workforce development program was implemented October 1, 2004 by wildland fire management leadership and the Office of Personnel Management. The effort to implement this important initiative originated in 1994, following the death of 14 wildland firefighters on the South Canyon Fire west of Glenwood Springs, CO.
Following this tragedy, a high level Interagency Management Review Team (IMRT) prepared a report that included a plan for organizational corrective action. Among the recommendations of the IMRT were the following; (1) Establish minimum qualifications for fire managers and agency administrators who are required to make fire management decisions, and (2) Agency Administrators should ensure that personnel holding, or selected for, fire management or agency administrator positions are qualified for the level of wildland fire complexity involved in the position or are able to obtain these qualifications within an acceptable time period.
In 1995 the final report (known as the 1995 Federal Fire Policy) was signed by both Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture and directed wildland fire management agencies to: establish fire management qualifications based on program complexity, and staff existing and future agency administrator and fire management vacancies with individuals who meet these qualifications and who are committed to accomplishing the total fire management program.
In the years that followed, fire management and human resource management experts developed the IFPM standard, including exhaustive lists of job-specific competencies for each of the key fire management positions. In 2004, the IFPM Standard was officially deployed by the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. An implementation period of five years was agreed to allow incumbents of key positions to obtain the necessary qualifications. This was then extended an additional year. October 1, 2010 is the date signifying the end of implementation. Any unqualified incumbent employee will be removed from their position at that time, and any employee applying for a key position on this date or thereafter must possess IFPM qualifications in order to be considered an eligible candidate.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Branch of Forestry and Fire Management, along with the Office of Human Capital Management, have worked for many years on this initiative in order to ensure a smooth transition to the new qualification standards.
Today, the IFPM Implementation Team provides oversight, guidance and makes recommendations to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group on modifications to the IFPM Standard and the implementation process itself. To learn more about the IFPM Standards and Guidance, please visit the IFPM Website.