Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Chris Niccoli

Office of Communication
U.S. Forest Service
December 6th, 2016 at 11:15AM

A photo of Chris Niccoli standing in front of 2016's U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from Idaho to Washington, D.C.
Chris Niccoli has worked for the US Forest Service since 1988. He was among the crew that brought this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from Idaho to Washington, D.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service.)

Every year since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has had the honor to provide the Nation’s capital with a magnificent Christmas tree from one of the Agency’s many forests. With the arrival of the tree so comes the hardworking contingent of folks who work on the national forest where the conifer is harvested. For 2016 the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree came from the Payette National Forest and among the employees was Chris Niccoli. Chris is a 29-year-long member of an elite wildland firefighting force called Smokejumpers.

Smokejumpers are aerial delivered firefighters who are among the first to respond to wildland fires and all risk incidents nationwide. Smokejumpers have been used by the US Forest Service since 1940. There are roughly 270 Smokejumpers working for the US Forest Service at seven bases located throughout the Northwest.

You’re known as a man of action and few words but let’s change a little bit of the last part of that descriptor. What led you to work for the Forest Service and when did you start working here?

I started with the Forest Service in 1988 with the Pike Hotshots. I was attending Colorado State University and running track and field for the University. The Superintendent for the fire crew came to the coach at CSU looking for people in shape. Six of us from CSU Track & Field went to work for the Pike Hotshots that summer. I worked summers with them through college.

I then started a career as a middle school teacher in 1992. Being a teacher with summers off allowed me to continue to work for the Forest Service in the summer fighting fires. In 1995, I took a job as a rookie smokejumper with the McCall Smokejumpers on the Payette National Forest. I loved the community of McCall as well as working at the jump base and decided to work year round with the Forest Service with the McCall Smokejumpers in 2002.

A photo of Chris Niccoli on the job as a Smokejumper.
Chris on the job as a Smokejumper. (Photo Credit: Niccoli Family Photos.)

What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?

I’m the Operations Manager for the McCall Smokejumpers and my favorite part of my job is two-fold. One, the motivated and dedicated people and two the variety and new experiences it provides.

Where did you grow up and who inspired you in your youth?

I was born in Denver, but grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was inspired by my grandparents, Bruno and Viola Niccoli. My grandad was a Butcher is Denver. I was always inspired by his hard work, sense of humor and love and dedication to my grandmother and family. My grandma inspired me by her overwhelming love for family and her never ending ability to listen.

What do you like to do for fun on your free time?

I like to spend my free time recreating and being active, I love to dirt biking in the woods, running with my dog Moose, ski with friends and family in the winters and spend time with friends.

What is your highest personal and professional achievement?

Delivering the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree to the Nation’s Capital. What stood out most was the incredible amount of positive energy the tree carried across the country from both young and old. I felt an incredible amount of pride and honor to be part of delivering the tree to the U.S. Capitol, but feel more honored to work with such a great group of people that made the project a success. The most exciting parts of the project were the cutting event and the delivery to the Capitol.

What are your future career goals?

To continue to educate myself and provide the best example of leadership I can to the people who work with me.

A photo of Chris Niccoli sitting on a dirt bike
During his free time, Chris enjoys dirt bike riding in the woods. (Photo Credit: Niccoli Family Photos.)
A photo of Chris Niccoli skiing with his brother, Mike.
Chris Niccoli skiing with his brother, Mike, who is a former Smokejumper with the Bureau of Land Management (Photo Credit: Niccoli Family Photos.)