US Forest Service Hazard Pay Issues Forest Service employees are being abused by high ranking Forest Service Officials who denying rightful Hazard Pay in accordance with the Incident Business Management Guide, The Forest Service Handbook as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Wording from Incident Bus Mgmt Guide:
12.9-3 – Criteria for Entitlement to Hazardous Pay Differential for Irregular and
Intermittent Hazardous Duties. (5 CFR 550.904.) Full-time, part-time, and intermittent GS employees are eligible for hazard pay differential computed at 25 percent of the base rate when performing duties specified below:
NWCG AMENDMENT 04-1 NWCG HB2, 11-13.5
EFFECTIVE 4/04 Page 24 of 40
Any member of the incident fire suppression organization is eligible for hazard pay while carrying out assigned duties, if hazard pay criteria, as described in 1- 4 below, is met. …
2. Flying. Individuals, except pilots, who are participating in limited control
12.9-1 – Definitions
3. Limited Control Flights.Flights undertaken under unusual and adverse conditions (such as extreme weather, maximum load or overload, limited visibility, extreme turbulence, or low level flights involving fixed or tactical patterns) which threaten or severely limit control of the aircraft."
Wording from Forest Service Handbook 6100:
12.92b - Duties Covered by Hazard Pay Differential. Interpret the duties listed below literally, not comparatively. The list is incomplete; a complete schedule is available in each appointing office (FSH 6109.41--FPM S-990-2, book 550, subchapter S9).
2. Flying. Participating in limited control flights: Flights undertaken under unusual and adverse conditions (such as extreme weather, maximum load or overload, limited visibility, extreme turbulence, or low level-flights involving fixed or tactical patterns) that threaten or severely limit control of the aircraft.
a. To be considered a low-level flight, the mission must require performance of a substantial part of the flight, other then landing or taking off, at altitudes of less than 500 feet above the terrain or vegetative canopy in daylight, or at less than 1,000 feet in mountainous areas at night.
b. "Limited control flights" are flights that require unusual flight pattern, maneuvers, or formations that reduce the pilot's control of the aircraft and increase the risk of accident. Such flights do not include routine take-offs and landings. The nature and degree of hazard and the control which may be exercised over the hazard, depend on the type of aircraft and its flight characteristics.
Examples of limited control flights include: (1) Maneuvering aircraft at low levels for the purpose of controlling forest and range fires. A very real hazard exists from turbulent winds created by and associated with fire updrafts and extreme temperature variations. (2) Maneuvering single engine aircraft at low levels and low speeds for the purpose of wildlife and natural resource surveys over rough terrain in remote regions of the country. The hazard is possible engine failure or mechanical malfunction that would dictate emergency landing under the worst possible conditions (3) Performing flight patterns at low levels for the purpose of making cargo drops and agricultural applications where there is hazard of equipment snagging or dropped material dragging behind the aircraft.
Wording from Code of Federal Regulations, Appendix A to Subpart I of Part 550—Schedule of Pay Differentials Authorized for Hazardous Duty Under Subpart I
Flying, Participating in:
Limited control flights. Flights undertaken under unusual and adverse conditions (such as extreme weather, maximum load or overload, limited visibility, extreme turbulence, or low level flights involving fixed or tactical patterns) which threaten or severely limit control of the aircraft.
Helicopters are utilized by the Forest Service to complete many missions flying below 500’, including the following:
IR Camera Ops
Search & Rescue
While completing these missions the helicopter is in low level flight involving fixed or tactical patterns. These fixed or tactical patterns require the pilot to fly the helicopter low and slow and execute tight downwind turns to stay with in a burn unit, fire perimeter or in the area a search or recon is being conducted. This mission most often occurs in areas other wise inaccessible to ground forces due to steep, rugged terrain or lack of landing areas/lack of road access. The missions cannot be completed except by a helicopter and crew completing the mission within the height velocity diagram’s “avoid operation” area.
While in these flight profiles, in the event of a mechanical failure or human error which results in over grossing of the aircraft, fatalities and/or severe injuries are sure to result.
Aerial Ignition-PSD missions Wildfire or Prescribed Fire are the epitome of hazardous operation. Personnel conducting this mission (Pilot, Burn Boss/Ignition Specialist and PLDO) are often flying four to eight hours/day in low, slow tactical patterns in windy conditions conducting burn operations. The following is from the Interagency Aerial Ignition Training Guide which referenced the Primo Mark III (PSD) Manufacturers Manual:
The maximum recommended speed should be 50 mph. Slow
aircraft speed to planned application speed when the firing
operation is in progress. Optimum speed is 25 to 35 mph.
The burn boss/ignition specialist gives direction to the pilot
once the firing run has begun and during the dry run to assure
correct placement of the injected spheres.
*Recommended flight operations are between 300’ AGL and
500‘AGL. Some firing operations may be above 500’ AGL,
but never below 300’ AGL.
In order for GPS Mapping and Infrared Camera missions to be accurate they must be done at low levels in a slow meticulous process in generally tight tactical patterns. This mission most often occurs in areas other wise inaccessible to ground forces due to steep, rugged terrain, lack of landing areas and lack of road access. The time frames for these missions vary depending upon the size of the area to be mapped with a GPS unit and or searched with the infrared camera. Missions can be as short as an hour to as long as 4-6 hours.
The rappel mission is conducted mainly in support of wildfire initial attack in remote backcountry areas. Rappel may also be utilized for emergency insertions of medical personnel to assist with injured people and to complete project work. This mission most often occurs in areas other wise inaccessible to ground forces due to steep, rugged terrain, lack of landing areas and lack of road access. Wildfires are primarily ignited by lightning. Initial attack rappel firefighters respond to fires as soon as possible-quite often when the storm producing the lightning is still in the area. These conditions can be very hazardous in the event of an engine failure-whether the helicopter is single or twin engine. The length of time for an average rappel mission completion, from sizing up a fire, selecting a rappel site and having rappellers on the ground and detached from rappel ropes will vary between make and model of helicopter and number of rappellers being deployed. It may take from as short as 10 minutes to as long as 20 minutes to complete the mission.
Recon and Search & Rescue operations are conducted utilizing the flight profile similar to GPS & IR Missions. This mission most often occurs in areas other wise inaccessible to ground forces due to steep, rugged terrain, lack of landing areas and lack of road access. Length of time spent in the hazardous flight profile is dependant upon the area to be reconnoitered or searched as well as how quickly the person is located. This can vary from an hour to eight hours in a day.
These identified helicopter missions meet the criteria for Hazard pay in accordance with the Interagency Incident Business Management Handbook, April 2004, Forest Service Handbook 6100 as well as the Code of Federal Regulations, Appendix A to Subpart I of Part 550—Schedule of Pay Differentials Authorized for Hazardous Duty Under Subpart I. There should be no question as to whether employees are entitled to the differential or not.
The Forest Service Officials attempt to mitigate the chances of accidents happening. Policy requires the use of trained and carded Helicopter managers, PSD Operators, Pilots, and carded helicopters. Some Regions require the use of Part 27 certificated Type III helicopters for their exclusive use contracts due to the additional controllability afforded these helicopters.
Some Forest Service Officials feel that “Projects” or “Planned Events” are different than “Incidents” in regards to risk and exposure due to a written plan being in place that makes all the Hazards disappear. The plan is considered “good” until an accident happens.
Despite this planning accidents do happen during “planned events” as well as during Wildfire incidents. There are some things that just cannot be planned for and completely mitigated such as human failures or mechanical failure. A machine does not differentiate between a project and an Incident.
Forest Service Policy requires the use of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) for all helicopter flights. Government provided PPE for helicopter flights consist of the following items:
Scenario #1Scenario #2
Flight Helmet $682.07 Flight Helmet $682.07
Flight Suit $104.85 Nomex Shirt $72.43
Nomex Pants $62.73
Flight Gloves $18.40 Flight Gloves $18.40
Total $805.32 $835.32
In addition, personnel are expected to provide their own leather boots that cost an average of $250+/pair.
This adds up to over $1,000 per person in PPE for each flight! If there are no hazards associated with helicopter flights why does Forest Service Policy require that Officials expend this type of money for PPE and expect the employees to expend their personnel funds as well?
Past Forest Service Helicopter Accidents that support the justification for Hazard Pay
July 12, 1994, Gila National Forest, R3, Initial Attack