Over the last 50 years, the USDA Forest Service’s Jobs Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (JCCCC) have provided leading-edge vocational training to underserved youth. JCCCC’s mission is to give young people a pathway out of poverty through hands-on job training.
Job Corps Centers throughout the country offer training programs in a range of fields, from automotive repair and carpentry, to culinary arts and nursing. As of 2016, the JCCCC Wildland Fire Training program is fully operational.
Back in 2007, Schenck Job Corps in North Carolina enrolled the first nine students in the newly-created advanced fire management trade program. The success of this program inspired U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to, in 2013, announce a plan to expand firefighting programs to all 26 Job Corps Centers through a partnership between the JCCCCs and the agency’s Fire and Aviation Management (FAM) branch. The goal was to enhance the role of Job Corps in filling future fire management positions in the Forest Service.
The four key elements of the Job Corps-FAM partnership were to: 1) establish a wildland firefighter type 2 (FFT2) crew and wildland firefighting camp crew at each JCCCC; 2) fund a GS-462-8/9 Wildland Fire Operations Specialist (WFOS) position at each JCCCC to manage the program at host National Forests; 3) fund firefighting supplies, equipment, and vehicles; and 4) Establish a second advanced fire management training program, to be located at a western Forest Service Job Corps location, modeled after the Schenck Job Corps advanced wildland fire program in North Carolina.
The 2015 outcomes for the Job Corps Fire Program are impressive: over 1,000 students received “red cards” for firefighting and camp crews. Corpsmembers served on 285 fire assignments, working nearly 3,100 days. Over 5,800 acres of Wildland-Urban Interface were treated, reducing the threat of future fires.
As of today, all Civilian Conservation Centers have a wildland fire and/or camp crew and a WFOS. Within the next year, the program will have the capacity to dispatch more than 1,000 firefighter Type 2 (FFT2) qualified Jobs Corps students nationwide to support all-hazard emergencies, hazardous fuels, and forest health programs nationwide. Upon graduating, Job Corps students can compete for permanent or seasonal appointments with a land management agency or county/state fire department. Students have the opportunity to be hired under the Public Lands Corps Authority.
The JCCCC-FAM partnership established a national fire management training program that helps transition entry-level students into full-time positions while providing youth valuable leadership skills and a foundation in forestry. The 26 Job Corps Centers are now a critical resource in helping the Forest Service fill fire management positions with a professional, highly-skilled, and diverse workforce.