COLORADO—Year after year, hundreds of wildland fire dispatch positions go unfilled due to the low number of qualified applicants.
In 2018 the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center and the Job Corps Fire Program brought together a group of forward-thinking problem-solvers to change this status quo. With their sights set on training and qualifying a new generation of wildland fire dispatchers, they established a pilot Forest Service Job Corps Dispatch Academy.
Simply put, the Job Corps Dispatch Academy is a game changer. Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Brian Ferebee presented RMCC and the Forest Service Job Corps Program with one of his region’s highest honors—the Regional Forester’s Award for Innovation—at the annual Regional Forester’s Awards ceremony April 4.
“When I visited the students at RMCC, I was so impressed I really did not want to leave,” said Ferebee. The students were rocking and they were so calm—it was just amazing. It made me think about the legacy we are leaving—the people that are coming up behind us who are doing exceptional work on our behalf.”
In 2018, 58,083 wildfires burned 8,767,492 acres in the United States. The Job Corps students Ferebee met were busying working in the Resource Ordering and Status System ordering personnel, aircraft, equipment and supplies for some of the largest wildfires burning across the nation. And once the fires were out, those same young dispatchers worked on getting everything and everyone back home.
“Every single year, we have more and more at-risk youth getting jobs in fire,” said Acting Job Corps National Director Harris Maceo. “Our mission in Job Corps is to provide an education and training to at-risk youth, but one of the things we like to strive for is to help the Forest Service with all its strategic priorities. There’s a lot of things these kids are doing for the conservation mission of the agency.”
Team members receiving the award included Acting Job Corps National Director Harris Maceo, RMCC manager Scott Swendsen, Fire and Aviation program coordinator Greg Sanders, Job Corps National Fire Program coordinator Clay Fowler, assistant fire management officer Justin Abbey and Job Corps Fire Program administrative assistant Raquel Stanton.
“It fills my heart and it makes me so happy to be able to call it [Job Corps Dispatch Academy] the winner. I was able to watch its genesis,” stated the presenter, Pike & San Isabel National Forest Supervisor, Diana Trujillo, who was serving as Acting Job Corps National Director at the start of the pilot. “It was just wonderful to see how the coordination staff came together to help young people take advantage of this opportunity—everyone was so dedicated.”
One of the challenges in recruiting career ladder dispatcher positions is that applicants must have 90 days of wildland firefighting experience for GS-5 positions and higher. Red-carded Forest Service Civilian Conservation Center students, who provide approximately 450,000 hours annually in support of wildland fire, have no challenges in meeting this requirement.
On April 15, a new class of 15 Job Corps students will arrive at RMCC. This dispatch academy pilot has now expanded and a Pacific Northwest Region academy in Eugene, Oregon, will train another class of 15 students in the coming months. It won’t be long before these new cohorts of young people will head out into the field to support the wildland firefighting efforts on national forests and grasslands.