WASHINGTON, DC—Each year, hundreds of wildland fire dispatcher positions go unfilled due to the low number of trained, qualified applicants. So just 18 months ago, the Forest Service Job Corps and Rocky Mountain Coordination Center staff set their sights on training and qualifying a new generation of wildland fire dispatchers. They wanted to create a workforce pipeline that runs from Job Corps centers to national forests and grasslands to fill these critical gaps.
One of the challenges in recruiting career-ladder dispatcher positions is that applicants must have 90 days of wildland firefighting experience for positions higher than GS-3. Job Corps students with red cards provide approximately 450,000 hours annually in support of wildland firefighting efforts and have no challenges in meeting this requirement.
To address the gap in qualified applicants, Forest Service Job Corps Centers and Rocky Mountain Coordination Center held a pilot Job Corps Dispatch Academy in 2018. Today, with new academies in both the Southern and Pacific Northwest Regions, Job Corps expanded dispatch recorders are changing the face of fire suppression coordination centers across the country. Expanded dispatch recorders collect the information needed to dispatch the appropriate resources to fires and national emergencies during periods of high activity, from personnel, to supplies or equipment.
“Whenever the subject of the Dispatch Academy is brought up in the dispatch community, people are extremely interested in the student because of the reputation their hard work is giving the program,” said Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center logistics coordinator Bruce Drapeau.
This week, the first classes of graduates celebrated their accomplishments at the USDA South Building’s Jefferson Auditorium.
In just the first two classes, graduates have made contributions to the agency nationwide. Students like 2018 graduates Julian Roth and Kaylene Ripko are building careers based on the training they received—from serving as dispatch recorders, like Roth on Lincoln National Forest, to working as a customer service representative on Mark Twain National Forest, like Ripko.
Other graduates have been equally successful while participating in their work-based learning dispatch assignments this summer. Xavier Hawes, who worked at the Virginia Interagency Coordination Center, “needs instruction on task just once and he retains the information and utilizes it going forward,” said VICC expanded dispatch supervisory dispatcher Aly Harris. “I was pleased with how easy he managed rostering the National Incident Management Organization team as they were being mobilized to respond to Hurricane Dorian.”
And students have been able to apply experience in other fields to their training positions. Prince King, while on assignment at RMCC, impressed trainer AJ Schaefbauer with his ability to ask the right questions, retain information and use of guides and standard operating procedures. His previous training in IT prepared him for successfully navigating the Resource and Ordering Status System. He even taught a seasoned dispatcher a new way to maneuver within the system.
Brian Ferebee gave the Job Corps Dispatch Academy the Rocky Mountain Regional Foresters award for innovation on April 5, 2019. The success of these academies demonstrates what can be accomplished when determined, forward-thinking Forest Service staff identify an agency problem and look for solutions.