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Congressional office pool offends mother of fallen firefighter. Wildland fire organization calls it 'a shot to the gut.'

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Lynnette Hamm, the mother of a fallen firefighter, believes it is truly appalling that staffers with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Capitol Hill had an office pool since 2003 to guess how many acres of land would be lost each year to wildfires. In addition to Hamm, whose son Caleb was killed last July, Federal Wildland Fire Service Association President Casey Judd is calling the practice "a shot to the gut". The FWFSA represents thousands of federal firefighters.

McKie Campbell, the Republican staff director for the committee, told The Washington Post after news of the office pool was first reported last week it has been stopped.

From The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe:

“While we’ve been burying wildland firefighters and aviation folks and citizens, this odd pool has been going on supposedly out of frustration with the U.S. Forest Service,” Judd said. “Well, let’s fix it.”

“How dare they!!” Hamm said in an e-mail. “These men and women put their lives on the line daily, and to be so belittled by something like this? I would be ashamed of myself. Maybe they should trade a ‘cushy’ office chair for a spot on the fireline, and let’s bet how long they last at it.”

“It will never happen again,” he (McKie Campbell) said in an interview Wednesday. “It was in no way indicative of disrespect for any of the folks who put their lives on the line to battle the fires.”

Grist.org, an environmental news service broke the news on January 5 and reported the pool was run by Frank Gladics a Republican staffer who, according to the Post, had been a firefighter. Here is more from Grist.org's Sarah Laskow:

On Tuesday he sent out 2011's results in an email that was perhaps forwarded a little too widely. (Grist managed to obtain a copy, after all.) Participants in 2011 ranged from lowly legislative aides to powerful staffers, like Bruce Evans, the Republican staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee. The entrants Grist identified all worked on the Senate side of the Hill.

At best, this little stunt could be excused as gallows humor — a peculiar inside-the-Beltway bonding ritual for disaster wonks. Since wildfires level people's homes, imperil both residents and firefighters, and serve as a barometer for climate-change-driven havoc, the annual game might also simply be tone-deaf, tasteless, and heartless.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Pauly C

    Soemone is always offended by something. I don't think this is a big deal. If this was sopmething the agency had control over  maybe, but they really can't control how many wildfires there are. SOrry but people need to lighten up.

    • Steve in NJ

      Pauly, what if we found out that New York City Council members were having an office pool on how many NYPD and FDNY members would be killed in the line of duty in a given year? Would you be saying "lighten up" then?  The point of this is that many of us in the fire suppression world often overlook the difficult job that our wildland bretheren face on an annual basis because its not perceived as being as "glamorous" as urban firefighting. Fact is, most of the "firefighters" I know would NOT last one day on a busy wildland crew. Many wildland firefighters, pilots and crew members are killed in the line of duty every year. The people who do this job deserve a little more respect (and maturity) from the folks in D.C.and the wildland firefighters and their families have every right to be offended.

  • Former Chief

    Another case of Not Thinking Syndrome.  I'm sure they didn't start out with the intention of offending the fire service community, especially the wild fire community and the victims, but, Come on man!.  Think a little bit.  Not good judgement.  I don't want to bring politics into this, but I have to wonder what difference it makes whether the staffers involved were Republican or Democrat.  Just mentioning that in the article puts this into the political spectrum and possibly shows a political agenda.  Makes you wonder if it would have gotten the "media" attention if the primary participants were Democrats.  In any event, poor judgement on the part of the staffers.

  • ukfbbuff

    My 2 cents from California.
    If this "Office Pool" existed since back in 2003, it then covers the time frame of the "Esparanza" fire that had 5 USFS Firefighter LODD's and "The Station Fire" which had two LA County Firfighter LODD's and more recently Texas with 3 Firefighters LODD.
    So, what did they win? And did they have the decency to donate the money to some Fire Service Organization?
    Ideally it was a guessing game of estimated acerage lost, but common sense would also figure in the some one "Might" get hurt or killed on one or more of the fires.
    Their is a sense pf being "Macabe" about "Winning" The Pool, yet knowing one or more Firefighters died while fighting it.

  • Truckie88

    As a lifetime structural FF I never understood the Wildland Firefighting reasons to risk firefighters to save trees? What happened to Risk a lot to save a lot? Trees are not a lot so just evacuate the people foolish enough to build in the forest