FOREST SERVICE PARTNERSHIP COUNCIL BRIEFING PAPER
March 21, 2001
TO: FSPC Members
FROM: Mike Bunten
RE: HAZARD PAY / BAER TEAM MEMBERS
Last year, with the extensive fire season on National Forest lands, came the
additional responsibility to re-habilitate the burned areas in a timely, yet
cost-effective manner. The emergency actions taken were necessary to prevent
threats to life and Federal property. To accomplish this task, Forest Service
employees were required to enter into areas soon after a fire has moved over the
area in order to evaluate damage and begin emergency efforts to stabilize the
soils and watersheds.
During these efforts, several questions surfaced regarding hazard pay. Gary
Wilson and I attended a BAER meeting in Albuquerque, NM, earlier this year to
listen to the Regional BAER coordinators. From this meeting, Gary and I made
the commitment that we would examine the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
and discuss with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) the entitlement to
hazard pay for BAER team members. The Office of Personnel Management
confirmed that BAER team members can receive hazard pay if the conditions
under which they are working meet the criteria in the 5 CFR 550.901.
Gary and I both felt that certain conditions BAER team members work under are
hazardous and are not covered by the CFR. In our discussions, OPM suggested
that we present to them a brief synopsis of the issue. The pay specialists at
OPM were very helpful and supportive of the potential coverage of the conditions
we described under which BAER team members must work.
The following is a summary of next steps and field questions with responses
jointly developed by Gary and myself.
Gary Wilson and Mike Bunten will ask the BAER team to develop a package for
OPM that addresses the hazardous work environment per guidance (format and
structure) from OPM. Gary will contact other Agencies (such as, the Department
of the Interior) to seek their support, which is to be part of the submittal package.
Once this package has been submitted, OPM said it should take about 6 months
for a decision. If OPM approves our proposal, then they will publish the changes
to the CFR in the Federal Register. Once the decision is published and an
effective date is established by OPM, then the Forest Service can begin to apply
the new rule.
Questions and Answers
1. As a BAER team member, am I entitled to hazard pay?
You must meet the environmental conditions established by OPM. See
5 CFR Appendix A to subpart I of Part 550. Entitlement to hazard pay already
exists when working in rough and remote terrain such as working on cliffs,
narrow ledges, or near vertical mountainous slopes where a loss of footing
would result in serious injury or death or when working in areas where there is
danger of rock falls or avalanches.
2. I was on a fire last year in Idaho where I was told I was not entitled to
hazard pay, who makes this determination?
BAER team members, although dispatched with fire teams and work together
with Incident Commanders and other fire personnel, work for the Forest
Supervisor where the fire or incident occurs. It is up to the Forest Supervisor
to determine if and when the conditions warrant hazard pay compensation for
BAER team members.
3. I was told that I needed to take the work capacity test before I can be a
member of a BAER team. Is this correct?
The Work Capacity Test (WCT) was negotiated between the Union and
Management for fire suppression work assignments. Requiring the WCT for
other work assignments within the agency would require further negotiations.
Although BAER team members may be working where fire crews are still
mopping up and they are required to take and pass the WCT, there is no
authority to require such testing as a requirement for BAER assignments at
4. While assigned to a BAER team in Region 3, I was told that I was not
entitled to R & R, why?
Region 3 was correct. BAER team members are assigned to do work for a
Forest Supervisor, not an Incident Commander or Agency Administrator. It is
up to the Forest Supervisor where the BAER team is working to determine an
individual’s fatigue level that may jeopardize their safety and welfare. If the
Forest Supervisor determines that the safety and welfare of an individual are
at risk, he or she has several alternatives available; including a change in
work assignment to light duty.
5. I work as an IR crew member assigned BAER work, am I entitled to
BAER work is not a fire suppression activity; hence does not qualify for
hazard pay based on wildland firefighting. However, BAER activities that
meet the environmental conditions stated in 5 CFR 550, Appendix A does
entitle you to hazard pay. Even though you are assigned to an incident, the
work you perform is the determining factor for hazard pay compensation.
6. Does the Wildland Firefighters Pay Equity Act apply to BAER projects?
Public Law – 106-558 specifically states that an employee must be “…
engaged in emergency wildland fire suppression activities…” in order to be
paid one and a half the employee’s hourly rate of basic pay. Since BAER
activity is not considered fire suppression, members of the BAER team are
not covered by this legislation.