Kilmer, others ask Trump administration about seasonal firefighters

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, told more than 50 people during a Port Angeles Business Association Meeting on Tuesday he’ll focus on bipartisan issues in the coming year, such as an anticipated infrastructure push as the new administration takes office. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer has joined other members of the House of Representatives to ask President Donald J. Trump’s administration to specify whether the federal hiring freeze affects seasonal firefighters.

In a letter sent to the Office of Personnel Management, the bipartisan group of nine representatives requested clarity on whether the freeze prevents the U.S. Forest Service from hiring seasonal firefighters for wildfire season.

“As members of Congress who represent states impacted annually by wildfires, we are concerned this hiring freeze may prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from hiring seasonal firefighters and other professionals in anticipation of wildfire season,” the members wrote in the letter.

“An inability to hire seasonal firefighters to combat wildfires seriously threatens public safety to our states.”

Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat, represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

The National Forest Service hired at least 6,200 seasonal workers for firefighting or firefighting-related duties in 2015, according to the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Seasonal firefighters supplement state and local firefighters’ efforts to prepare for wildfire season and contain wildfires as they emerge.

To ensure that seasonal workers are trained and ready for wildfire season, the Forest Service’s hiring process traditionally begins over the next several weeks with a series of job fairs in such wildfire-prone states as Washington.

“We are concerned that this process will be interrupted, delayed or prohibited by the Administration’s hiring freeze,” the letter says.

Over the summer, fires in the Olympic National Park burned about 3,000 acres.

“Right now, we’re still awaiting guidance from the Office of Personnel Management in how long the hiring freeze will be implemented and how that might play out,” said Jared Low, acting spokesperson for Olympic National Park.

“We don’t have much news in how that will play out.”

Low said Olympic National Park typically begins hiring seasonal firefighters around April or May.

Typically, ONP will hire three to six seasonal firefighters to work alongside three permanent firefighters, he said.

Low said he didn’t want to speculate whether the hiring freeze could cause the state and local fire districts to carry the burden of fighting fires in Olympic National Park.

Calls to Olympic National Forest Supervisor Reta Laford were not returned Thursday.

An official at the National Forrest Service said he was not authorized to talk about the hiring freeze.

Also signing the letter to the Office of Personnel Management were Democrats Kristen Sinema and Tom O’Halleran, both of Arizona, and Scott Peters of California. Also signing were Republicans Trent Franks and Andy Biggs, both of Arizona; Scott Tipton of Colorado; Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Oregon; and Dan Newhouse of Washington state.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.