I see in every thread there are always people saying/asking something like, “They should order us” or “Why did they order them and not us?” Rather than clogging incident feeds with these questions/statements, I thought it would be prudent to allow people to have their own message board where it doesn’t impact the flow of information on incident boards. I realize people have different motivations, understanding, and drives for asking these questions. But let’s keep it on this board if the moderators agree and leave it off the incident boards.
We peak at over 30k firefighters assigned at National PL 5 and there are roughly 9K firefighter assigned nationally right now. So….about 20K firefighters are sitting. It is what it is.
The system is complicated to say the least. There is no website to check to see where you are on the list. You plan all winter to get ready for fire season and when it seems that orders should be coming, they don’t. You wonder if your investment will pay off. You hear about lean years driving off contractors. The hardest thing about being a contractor is the toll it takes on your people. People have lives and can’t just wait around for fires. They have rent to pay so they need regular jobs. This makes it hard to find people willing to work your equipment, but they will on the hope of good work and wages. If the work never comes you stand a good chance of not retaining those people. Also, we like the fire work. We like being able to help communities, home and land owners, and the environment. It is rewarding work to help out on these disasters. A lot of times we turn down good jobs to stay available for fire work. So when you see a fire blow up 20,000 acers in one day, its easy to wonder why they don’t call you because you are ready to go. I have always been active when it comes to finding work. I would love to call the dispatch center and find out where I am on the list and maybe say would could leave now if you hire us. However, it says in the contract directly not to call, do not just show up, do not self dispatch or you could be sanctioned. So you wait patiently and politely wondering if you will get a call. You don’t want to miss a call, so you sleep with the phone by your bed. Then your wife gets mad when you get called at night by someone who wants to renew your extended warranty. You spend all day on websites like this one and others analyzing weather, IAP’s, maps, PG&E video in an effort to make a guess if they might need your help. Its a challenge being a private contractor. So sorry if we are jamming up your post, but they should order us!!!
Every FF or Contractor wants to get ordered. Every agency has ordering procedures and we have to live with that. Contractually whether it’s VIPR or HEMS in CA there’s a system and if the system is not followed by requesting agencies, contractors have the option to file claims, though the bureaucratic system it’s difficult. Having managed contract resources in CA for many years before I retired there are a lot of contractors who see the “big bucks” when there’s a hot season and stretch them selves thin. It’s a big investment and banking on fires is a real crap shoot. The contractors that do well also make sure they have steady work or the capital to ride the quiet year.
A lot of what you said I completely agree with Cauby43.
But, there are now over 400 Type 2 federally contracted crews alone on top of the 100+ IHCs and dozens of T2IA crews. Those Type 1/T2IA will always be utilized first.
In slow years like this one (so far) there just isn’t enough fire for everyone to spend 60+ days on fires like the last two years, even if you are a regular agency employee (besides IHCs).
It is feast or famine for contract crews (and all other contracted resources) unfortunately. The business model never meant for those on contracted resources outside of owners and a handful of year round employees to be able to make a career.
21 years ago was my first Fire season. Every person that I knew in the Hired equipment world, (Both agency and privately employed) would always tell us newbies " You’ll go broke and lose your a$$ if you rely on fires for a livin" It seems to me, that since the 2015 season with the North Bay Fire siege, and pretty much every season other than '19. Contractors did extremely well. And thats awesome. Also along with PGE and utility contractors pumping billions of dollars into the Utility vegetation management side of things. The Midi equipment platform exploded along with Class 5 trucks to pull them. So that opened another huge new portion of contracting with CF and USFS. Equipment that we rarely ever saw before was and has become the new normal on rehab… for months. Carb board made Fire use only exemptions and lots of lowboys and water trucks survived when they thought they were going under. We had more campaign fires that cranked out millions to non compliant equipment. There are now 3 acceptable options for CWN shifts avail to contractors. CF accepts a 12 hour resource now commonly when needed for a fire… again, something that was not common 20 years ago. This is all great, and a perfect opportunity for a Capitalist in mind person. But… the one thing I will always remember is the little voice in the back of my head saying… “Don’t put your eggs all in one basket” and “Your nuts if you rely on fires” My 2 cents and kudos agree with the company that owns it all or carries on enough other work to keep there employees paid, payments made and reputation good. Id rather work with a 12 hour solid dozer or other resource, than a sand bagging, forgetful and overheating one. Or a kid that I do feel sorry for, who just met his boss on Facebook 2 days before. Cheers, great topic.
The best explanation you can find👇. Some season we spend most the year in PL4 and 5 and some we don’t.
What you are saying resonates with most of us current and former contractors. The phone by the bed, losing employees, hours spent on the Hotlist, and thinking you’re going to have a heart attack when the call comes at 3am from expanded dispatch somewhere. I went thru some slow years as an employee in the mid-2000s and it taught me to run a shoestring operation once I had my own business, and in our first year, we barely squeaked by with one call that came on September 5th. Business boomed in 2012 in California and we were lucky to ride the drought wave for about 5 years, but it seemed like every nickel we made had to go in the bank to make payroll thru August 1st of the next season, if there was one. Never was able to buy a new pickup, or really feel secure. For me the hard part was knowing 1/3 of your entire season’s income might come from one call, and never getting that call, seeing that fire go to a competitor that was closer. We ended up selling to a bigger company and I work for them, now. Way less profit in my pocket, but I was going to die if I kept up the stress of being on the hook for every call. Seen a lot of competitors come and go, and it was ‘fun’ while it lasted.
Good insight, thanks for this
I empathize with all of you vendors out there. I took the fam for a much needed camping trip right when the Electra Fire popped off. I wasn’t going to cancel the trip on the off chance we got the call. Well, as my luck would have it, we had spotty cell service and missed the call… if I didn’t have a day job to hold us over, I’d probably would have had a nervous breakdown. Actually I still might when I think about potentially some or all of our annual revenues gone.
Well said Woody
I will add the following
Take a look at the number of former PVT CWN Dozer operators that now work for the agencies and ask yourself the following question;
IF THERE IS SO MUCH $$ ON THE PVT SIDE, WHY HAVE SO MANY LEFT THE PVT SIDE FOR THE AGENCY JOB?
I can’t imagine what it is like to keep private crews and equipment available without guaranteed income. I have seen the cycle several times over the past 40 years, a string of active fire seasons brings the expectation the next one will be the same. At some point a strong El Nino will bring not just a heavy winter but large precip late into the spring followed by heavy coastal fog intrusion for the summer greatly moderating conditions. Much or most of the west will have a very slow year possibly two or three. Contractors purchased massive amounts of equipment in the late 80ies and early 90ies only to get financially ruined by the very slow seasons of the late mid and later 90ies. In CA the funding to increase crews, dozes and engines is massive and that will add resources that will get used first. It seems unfair to rely on contractors and at the same time they take all the financial risk. No idea what the solution is.
Theres a lot of reasons why someone might jump over to the agency side. Retirement, benefits and year around employment just to name a few.
I ran the clerical support division for a contractor in the mid 2000s. One problem for these sorts of specialty contractors is the entire pie isn’t really very large (1 unit per incident at most), so having ANY competition barely leaves enough crumbs for anyone to make enough dough to stay in a what is a fairly high-overhead business.