US ‘They get really jaded’: Worker defections strain Feds' wildfire crews
Feds step up pressure on social media over false COVID-19 claims
Social media companies are facing new pressure from the federal government to crack down on health misinformation as the Biden administration makes a push to encourage reluctant Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory Thursday stating that misinformation is an "urgent threat" and called on the tech companies he accused of amplifying the misinformation to take action to fight the false, and often dangerous, claims. "Health misinformation didn't start with COVID-19. What's different now is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading," Murthy said at a White House briefing. The U.S.
Federal efforts to battle wildfires raging at record pace across the west are hampered by staff defections that are depleting the ranks of its frontline troops.
Thethe need to improve pay and benefits for Forest Service firefighters as climate change makes work that was once part-time and seasonal more like full-time employment. President Joe Biden announced in June that the minimum hourly wage for firefighters will be increased to $15 from $13.45, but that may not be enough to compete with non-federal agencies like California’s, which offers entry level pay of nearly $50,000 a year, not including compensation and benefits.
Couple charged in California fire sparked by gender reveal
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A couple whose gender reveal ceremony sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter last year were charged with involuntary manslaughter, authorities announced Tuesday. Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty Monday to charges involving the El Dorado Fire, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference. The charges included oneRefugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty Monday to charges involving the El Dorado Fire, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference.
“The pay structure for our wildland firefighters was set decades ago when firefighting was more of a trade than a profession,” said Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, the union that represents Forest Service workers. “Most state and local governments have recognized this and increased their standards for firefighters. But the federal service hasn't kept up.”
Beyond the immediate problems posed by understaffed, overworked firefighting crews, retention problems in the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service branch could hinder Biden’s plans for strengthening prevention, preparedness and mitigation efforts aimed at reversing the trend of wildfire seasons increasing in length and severity every year.
Warning: Your boss is probably spying on you — and it could be bad for your health
Employers are using software that can track every click and keystroke that remote workers make, take screenshots of their computer screens, and even monitor their movements.While there's no good data on how many companies are using bossware to monitor their employees, we can say with confidence that these tools are widespread and growing at an accelerating rate.
The U.S. has seen large wildfires rise by roughly 100 every year since 2015, the White House said in a fact sheet outlining plans for addressing the growing threat. The situation is being exacerbated this year by drought conditions currently affecting about 90 percent of the western U.S.
The Forest Service employs about 10,000 firefighters who coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal partners on emergency responses and wildfire prevention strategies. They are the first line of defense forof the National Forest System, and play a crucial role in fighting large fires because of their ability to cross state lines and provide immediate support.
“That is why the federal government maintains a mobile national firefighting service — to surge where firefighters are needed most and to assist local fire departments,” Lenkart said. “State and local fire departments do not have the ability to travel like U.S. Forest Service and BLM [Bureau of Land Management] fire departments.”
Thailand sends COVID-19 patients to hometowns by train
BANGKOK (AP) — Authorities in Thailand began transporting some people who tested positive for the coronavirus from Bangkok to their hometowns on Tuesday for isolation and treatment to alleviate the burden on the capital’s overwhelmed medical system. A train carrying more than 100 patients and medical workers in full protective gear left the city for the northeast. It will drop patients off in seven provinces, where they will be met by health officers and taken to hospitals. Medical authorities in Bangkok said Monday that all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients at public hospitals were full and that some of the sick were being treated in emergency rooms.
Wildfire season typically runs from June and through November, but most Forest Service firefighters have been on “the front lines since January 2020 with very little downtime,” a USDA spokesperson told POLITICO. They traveled to Australia early last year to help fight the massive wildfires there, then came home to confront big blazes in the U.S. that lasted into December alongside the coronavirus pandemic, the spokesperson said. Many then volunteered to assist in Covid-19 vaccination efforts during what would normally have been their time off.
“With fire seasons turning into fire years, it is imperative to have a year-round workforce that is available to respond at any time, that is supported and equitably compensated, has a better work-life balance, and is available to undertake preventive actions like hazardous fuels management treatments during periods of low fire activity,” the spokesperson said.
Riva Duncan, a former Forest Service fire staff officer who retired in December but still works as an emergency hire, said she felt the strain of the shortages when she was deployed to New Mexico this year. Earlier fire seasons in the Northern Rockies stretched personnel resources thin, impacting the already small crews.
Wildfires are decimating the West and choking the East — it's time for solutions
As much of the West burns and heat waves continue to scorch parts of the country, the worst partisan politics in recent memory seems to have paralyzed our capacity to prepare and respond to major threats to humanity — from a surging pandemic to devastating climate-linked crises. It's not too late to alter our policies and turn things around, but time is running out. Is anyone listening?Dr. Irwin Redlener (@IrwinRedlenerMD) is the founding director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute as well as professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a senior research scholar.
“It's becoming more difficult to hire employees and retain employees, and it’s due to really low pay, the physical and mental demands, longer fire seasons and catastrophic fires that take a mental toll,” Duncan said.
The retention problem is not new. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said securing resources for federal firefighters has been a priority of hers since she came to the Senate in 1992, adding that she has been trying to help resolve the pay disparity issue since she became aware of it last year. She praised the Biden administration for taking steps to address the problem.
“I’ve heard about many challenges caused by low firefighter wages,” Feinstein said. "Federal firefighters in California have difficulty finding affordable housing and covering bills in high-cost areas and, more broadly, the federal agencies have trouble hiring and retaining enough firefighters.”
The federal government is losing highly trained personnel to state agencies like California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, which offers pay and benefits lucrative enough that they are having no trouble hiring and retaining workers even as the demand for labor grows.
“In the state of California there is never a shortage of applicants for these jobs,” said Isaac Sanchez, a captain at Cal Fire. “Firefighting is a very competitive business when it comes to the new hires, especially from Cal Fire’s perspective. Every time we make an announcement for our seasonal firefighters, there is never a shortage.”
In addition to boosting minimum pay for entry level workers, the Biden administration’s plans for addressing retention problems include bonuses for more experienced workers and spot payments to temporary workers who agree to work through the current fire season. The administration said it would also work with Congress to address long-standing compensation, benefit and work-life balance issues.
That would come as welcome news to people like Paul Minnow, who retired in 2018 after 39 seasons as a Forest Service firefighter in Colorado. He said that during his years in a managerial role, he had firsthand experience with the difficulty of retaining highly-trained workers doing essential work under extreme duress while being poorly compensated.
“We called it ‘They get really jaded’ because why would you want to stay with all of these things pushing you down when you can go to Cal Fire?” Minnow said. “There needs to be more thought put into giving people more permanent work so they can get into retirement, health, life insurance benefits. To me that is truly the way the agencies are going to be more competitive with the state and local agencies.”
'Sir, there is something on your chin': Biden bailed out by staffer for mark on face .
President Joe Biden avoided a potentially embarrassing situation after an aide handed him a note alerting him of a yellow mark on his chin while he met with a number of state leaders on Friday. © Provided by Washington Examiner Biden, who spoke to governors throughout the western United States in a virtual meeting, was sitting through remarks about wildfires when the piece of paper was given to him. "Sir, there is something on your chin," the card read.