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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Response from Bill Lafferty

On July 1, I posted an e-mail that I had received from concerning Jaime Pickering, the Oregon firefighter who claims that he was demoted because he refused to be forced to learn Spanish. In that post, I asked everyone to whom it is important that the United States maintain its national identity to e-mail or call Oregon Forestry Department's Fire Program Director Bill Lafferty to protest this action against Mr. Pickering.

I did e-mail Mr. Lafferty and, to my surprise, received a response. In fairness to Mr. Lafferty and the Oregon Forestry Department, I am posting Mr. Lafferty's response. I'll leave it to you to decide whom you believe.

Here is the e-mail I received from Mr. Lafferty:


I am writing in response to your recent email regarding the Oregon Department of Forestry’s language requirements for the leaders of private contract fire crews. Recent television coverage has caused confusion and concern, prompting numerous calls and emails to our office. Here is some information that I hope will explain the situation and address concerns that you may have.

An inaccurate report in the news media was circulated widely during the week of June 19, causing widespread concern. Jaimie Pickering appeared in several regional and national TV interviews in which he misrepresented our language policy. In addition, he misrepresented his own credentials. Let me briefly go through the falsehoods and clarify our actual policies.

Mr. Pickering’s claim: Jaimie Pickering represented himself as a fire crew boss of a private contract fire crew. He claimed that because he does not speak Spanish, he was demoted.

Dept. of Forestry response: Mr. Pickering has never been a fire crew boss. He lacks the training and experience to hold this position. We are not aware of anybody that has ever been fired or demoted from any contract crew because they could not speak Spanish. English is the language of firefighting in the U.S.

Mr. Pickering’s claim: He implied in statements to news media that he was an employee of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Dept. of Forestry response: Mr. Pickering has never been an employee of the department.

Mr. Pickering’s claim: He claimed that he was dismissed as a firefighter trainer because of his “whistle blowing” against the Department of Forestry regarding our language requirements.

Dept. of Forestry response: Mr. Pickering began making this public claim in late June 2006. In mid-April of this year, he asked the Department of Forestry to review his fire training credentials, because he said he wanted to work as a fire crew boss. At his request, we reviewed Pickering’s records and discovered several deficiencies to meet the national certification standard for a crew boss. Our review revealed that he did not possess the requisite training and experience to be a fire crew boss. He was informed in April of the courses needed and the on-the-job experience necessary to become a crew boss.

During the review of his credentials we found that he had been providing training for hire to other contract firefighters beyond the level his accepted credentials (Basis Firefighter) would allow. There were also a number of deficiencies with the training he provided and irregularities in the documentation that he was providing. These deficiencies revealed a significant pattern of actions by Mr Pickering’s training business that did not comply with the standards of the profession. As a result of the months-long investigation, the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group terminated Mr. Pickering’s agreement to train contract firefighters on June 27.

Language requirements for private contract fire crews: English is the language of firefighting in the U.S. It is the standard throughout the country and we adhere to it. Each year, the Oregon Department of Forestry administers a contract to procure fire crews from private companies to fight wildfires. In recent years, a number of private contractors bidding on the contract have been U.S. citizens of Hispanic decent and many of them train their leaders from within their company. If a private fire crew company chooses to hire non-English-speaking firefighters, we then require that they provide crew leaders that, in addition to reading and speaking English, also speak the language of those non-English crewmembers. This requirement is for the safety of the firefighters and effectiveness of the firefighting effort. These leaders must be able to understand the briefings and orders they receive as well as be able to communicate in English effectively on two-way radios. Migrant farm workers with bilingual crew leaders have been a part of the nations firefighting workforce since the early 1960s. It is nothing new.

Oregon Department of Forestry is working with the Clackamas Community College to develop an improved language verification process for fire crew leaders. We want to ensure that these leaders possess the English reading and speaking skills they need to perform safely and effectively on the fireline. To date, of the 80 potential crew leaders tested in the pilot program, 17 were found to have a need for improved English skills before we could accept them as a crew leader. When the verification process becomes mandatory in 2007, crew leaders who cannot meet the English proficiency standard will have an opportunity to take English language classes at the Community College at their own expense.

A note about immigration status: Contractors bear the primary responsibility for ensuring that their employees have legal work status. We believe that most contract crew members have such status. However, knowing there are illegal immigrants in many labor pools throughout this country, we are working increasingly with federal immigration authorities and other partners to monitor the immigration status of contract crew members. We have contract language that will hold private contactors accountable if found to use illegal immigrants.

I hope the above information addresses your concerns about Oregon’s private contract fire crews.


Bill Lafferty, director
Protection from Fire Program


Blogger SkyePuppy said...

Interesting. An alleged case of a disgruntled ex-employee with a distorted explanation for his plight. I guess we never hear from the gruntled ex-employees.

Mr. Lafferty strikes me as a little more credible.

Thanks for posting his reply.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Jaime Pickering said...

Hey guys. I'm here still. I've been Fighting fires since 1988. and yes I can document it. I can also prove that I was both a Engine Boss and a Crew Boss. All with Gov. Documents. I can also show where Oregon Dept of Forestry Fire manegers have lost there currency and lack currant training. Don Mortiz who is in charge of Fire Contracting came from Oregon Dept of Transportation. Don Mortiz was in charge of contracting signs for ODOT. The only person in ODF with proper paperwork is Jim Walker.This fight has been going on since 2004. They have checked my record every year. Below is part of what started this whole thing. Pls feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I'm here where are they at?

Hi I am Jaime Pickering. I own Highland Wildfire Inc. in Oregon, a small business that Offers Wildland Firefighting classes to Private Contractors. Most of them are small minority businesses. The new 2006 Fire contract has put 48% of them out of business. Plus in 2005 we had almost 300 crews (There are 20 people on a crew. They are paid $10.50hr for Entry Level up to $35.00hr for Supervisors) started out protecting are forest and this year in 2006 only 168 crews were put in, out of them Approximately 120 Survived. They all had a deadline of June 8 20006 to be full compliance. At this point OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY pulled the 2006 Contract off of ORPIN (State procurement web site) you can do the math and see how many jobs were lost. This cost the contractors Thousands. Now they issue a new contract. That is due June 23rd. We need the help of our government and not getting it.

Now For what OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY has done to me & my Corporation. I was born in Eugene, Oregon in 1971. My family moved to Arizona in 1981. In 1988 I started my Firefighting Career as a Basic Firefighter. (I had fought desert fires when I was 12-16) 1990 I became an Advanced Firefighter. 1991 I moved back to Oregon. 1992 I became a Crew Boss. 1993 I became an Engine Boss. I continued as an Engine Boss until I hurt my back in 1998. In 2002 I asked OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY what I needed to go back out on the line. I was told I needed to redo my classes. I contacted Bill Hoskins who had a MoU to provide Training.(OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY took this from him in 2003) Over 2 Weeks I redid S-130/S-190 BASIC FIREFIGHTER, S-131 ADVANCED FIREFIGHTER, S-230/S-290 CREW BOSS, AND S-231 ENGINE BOSS. I did not go out that year. January of 2003 I got my Instructor 1 so I could teach. I received a call from Bill Hoskins in June of 2003 asking me to go to Idaho and be an Engine boss. I taught my First 3 classes over there. I went out as an Engine boss with a good performance review. May of 2004 myself, Lanette Banfeild (woman owned), and William Chiles (war veteran) Started Highland Wildfire Inc. We got a MoU from PNWCG for providing training to private contractors with me as a Lead Instructor. We earned around $6000.00 dollars that all went into equipment. (Just for the record we started with $250.00 and to this date never asked for a loan or received money other then what we've put into it.) OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY in 2004 decided that I was an Engine Boss but not a crew boss so I had to go out as a squad boss and get 1 hotline. But as an Engine boss I could still teach. (You have to be crew or engine boss or higher to teach) I got my hotline so I thought I was good to go.....not. 2005 OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY decided I needed 3 hotlines and 15 operational periods. So I had to go out again as a squad boss. We made about $30,000 in training and I hired 3 employees. I got my 3 hotlines and over 15 days. So now I am good to go......not. 2006 OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY has just decided to strip me back to squad boss and is requiring me to redo my S-230/S-290 and has told me that I can't teach. This has cost us money. William Chiles has gone back to driving Long haul for swift as he has a 3 year old and one on the way. Our company can't afford health coverage or salaries for the three of us. I now have 1 Instructor that gets paid 50% of any classes taught after expenses

Last year I had 7 contractors that I trained for. Because of OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY I have 3 contractors this year. The rest don't trust our credibility or are out of business now. I'm figuring we've lost about $65,000.00 not to mention as a squad boss I will only get $15.00hr instead of $30.00hr. And if I have to follow OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY currant stipulations I won't be able to teach until 2007 possibly 2008. I will have to close down. This will hurt my family. (3 dependants) I don't have money to fight the state legally

There is another training Assoc. That has had his MoU pulled by OREGON DEPT. OF FORESTRY in 2006 and it has cost him over $100,000.00 and credibility.

I consider Wildland Firefighting a career. I consider what I have done “A Childhood Dream” and my small corporation “An American Dream.” I’ve always believed that my government would help me; instead they have taken my dreams away.

Highland Wildfire Inc.

Jaime Pickering

480 E. Powell St. #B

Monmouth, Or. 97361

503-838-0879 Home

503-931-3766 Cell

P.S. Since the writing of this letter I’ve gotten into a pissing contest with ODF. Went to the media both locally and nationally about issues with the contract. They responded by making false allegations about me to destroy my credibility. And they stripped me back to FFT2 entry level firefighter. And they have taken my MoU invalidating all my training I have done the last couple years. This punishes the contractor who has already paid for the training and used them out on the line. It also affects the students who took time off work to come to class. Now they have to retrain before they go out. It can be hard to find a class this late in the year.

12:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, based on your grammar you can barely speak English, much less Spanish.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Mr. Anonymous must have never worked hard a day in his life, to make such a comment about someome elses plite.

1:12 PM  

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