TOC Next Page

Interagency Task Group Report

Essential Competencies for Wildland Fire, Aviation, and All Risk Career Field

July 18-25, 1995

National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, ID

To assist in meeting career development needs of the National Park Service, a task group was assembled at NIFC to identify essential competencies for selected fire and aviation positions. While this effort addresses NPS concerns, it was felt that the other four federal wildland fire management agencies might also benefit and would contribute significantly to the project.

The employee development process that the NPS is using is founded upon defining essential competencies for positions within a career field. Once these competencies are adequately identified, a curriculum may be developed which provides the employee with requisite knowledge, skills and abilities to function within a position. Ultimately, position qualifications may be determined.

It was felt that this project might also be a first step towards meeting the South Canyon Fire Interagency Management Review Team's recommendation to "establish minimum qualifications for fire managers...who are required to make fire management decisions." (IMRT Topic 3.6, October 17, 1994)

Task Group Members

USDA - Forest Service

Bill Russell - Acting Director, Fire & Aviation Management, Southwest Region,
Albuquerque, NM

USDI - Bureau of Land Management

Roy Johnson - Chief, Fire Operations and Safety, Branch of Fire and Aviation,
NIFC, Boise, ID
Marcia Scifres - Fire and Law Enforcement Retirement Specialist, NIFC, Boise, ID

USDI - Bureau of Indian Affairs

Rich McCrea - Fire Management Officer, Northern Pueblos Agency, Espanola, NM

USDI - Fish & Wildlife Service

Mike Benscoter - Training Specialist, Branch of Fire & Aviation, NIFC, Boise, ID

USDI - National Park Service

Paul Broyles - Suppression/Safety/Training Specialist, Branch of Fire and Aviation,
NIFC, Boise, ID
Doug Raeburn - Fire Management Officer, Shenandoah NP, Luray, VA
Ken Kerr - Fire Management Officer, Lava Beds NM, Tulelake, CA
Dan O'Brien - Systems Support Office Fire Management Officer,
Colorado Plateau Systems Support Office, Denver, CO
Kristy MacMillan - Fire Management Assistant, Buffalo National River, Harrison, AR
Paul Head - Systems Support Office Fire Management Officer, New England Systems
Support Office, Boston, MA


1.Various Competency Definitions

Competency--A combination of knowledge, skills and abilities in a particular Career Field, which, when acquired, allows a person to perform a task or function at a specifically defined level of proficiency.

Essential Competency--A competency that forms part of the vital knowledge, skills and abilities for an individual career field; an essential competency is critical for an employee to perform effectively at his or her level in a Career Field.

Common Competency--An essential competency that described the knowledge, skills and abilities found with a family of related jobs.

2. Performance Levels (relate to all competencies within a career field):

Entry Level--is just starting in the Career Field; has appropriate academic preparation but little or no work experience.

Developmental Level--Has some/limited hands-on experience in one or more disciplines within the Career Field; can handle some issues/situations/competencies in one or more disciplines within the Career field on his/her own.

Full Performance Level--Has considerable hands-on experience, generally in more than one discipline within the Career Field; can handle most issues/situations/competencies, generally in more than one discipline within the Career Field on his/her own.

3. Knowledge Levels (relate to individual competencies within a Career Field):

Basic Knowledge--Has a rudimentary/elementary understanding of the concepts/tasks entailed in the competency; can do the work with assistance/guidance/close supervision of more experienced colleagues/leaders.

Working Knowledge--Has a thorough understanding of the concepts/tasks entailed in the competency; can do the work on his/her own with minimal assistance/guidance/supervision.

Advanced Knowledge--Is very accomplished/a recognized information source in that competency; can teach/guide/lead others in the competency.


Resources used in developing competencies

The Group utilized variety of resources in identifying competencies. These included a variety of position descriptions from several agencies, training course materials, USDA Forest Service Southwest Region "Aviation and Fire Management Career and Training Guide for Fire Positions in Region 3" and previously identified common competencies from the National Park Service Employee Training and Development Program.

Identified Positions/Competency Areas in Career Field

The Group identified seven (7) positions in this career field for the NPS. These "positions" were also considered to be representative of a "family of positions": more than one position might be identified within the context of the described area. For instance, several fire suppression positions might be identified within the "Suppression Specialist" competency area, if an agency so chose. An agency might also choose to combine certain competencies from more than one competency area to meet an identified position need: for example, an "Operations Specialist" might combine competencies from the "Suppression Specialist" and "Fire and Fuels Specialist" competency areas.

1. Fire Managers - AFMO, FMO, etc.
2. Suppression Specialists
3. Prescribed Fire/Fuels Specialists
4. Prevention Specialists
5. Aviation Specialist
6. Fire Dispatchers
7. Structure Protection/Urban Interface Specialists


Several assumptions were made to expedite the process:

1. Technical Incident Command System (ICS) skills are only referenced in general within the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities of the seven positions/"families of positions". ICS skills are identified within the NWCG's Incident Command System's "I-course" curriculum.

2. Technical wildland fire suppression, prescribed fire, dispatcher and prevention skills are identified in the various NWCG curricula, and are only generally referenced in the attached competency Knowledge, Skills and Abilities.

3. Technical structural fire skills are identified in NFPA #1001, "Firefighter Professional Qualifications".

4. Primary emphasis is on identification of managerial and non-ICS competencies of the employee at the home unit.

5. The Structure Protection/Urban Interface Specialist competencies will be identified by a separate group. This effort is directed by Jim Farrel, NPS Structure Protection Specialist, NIFC.

6. Many of the competencies in wildland fire management are interrelated. For this exercise, each competency was placed in an element where it seemed to best fit, even though it may be related to several other elements.

7. The identified essential competencies are targeted for positions/"families of positions" at the field level. Higher than field level competencies (state, regional, national) were considered to be quite similar, but applied at a higher scale and complexity.

8. All essential competencies were assumed to be the same at each performance level, but the knowledge levels vary by performance level, as does the degree of direct supervision, etc.

9. GS/WG grades were avoided--"Entry", "Developmental" and "Full Performance" Levels were utilized instead.

Common Competencies

The following Common Competencies are identified as competencies needed across all positions/"families of positions" at all levels of work by every employee. Employees obtain these Common Competencies through personal education and experiences, through Agency orientation and mission renewal programs, and through interaction with peers, teams and supervisors.

1. Mission Comprehension

Description:This competency requires a thorough background and understanding of the agency enabling legislation and its many ramifications and the additional responsibilities that have been added to the agency throughout its history.


Mission Comprehension

A. Historical Background and Creation of the Agency
B. Enabling Legislation
C. Mission Evolution
D. Agency Mandate(s)
E. The Purpose of Limits Within the Agency

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Knowledge and comprehension of agency history

Understanding of agency enabling legislation and other Acts affecting agency mission

Ability to espouse a personal philosophy regarding the agency mandate and the purpose of units within the agency

2.Agency Orientation

Description: This competency requires a basic comprehension of the structure and organization of the agency organizational levels; an understanding of the structure and organization of the Department of the Interior or Department of Agriculture and its place in the Federal Government; and the development of an insight into an individual employee's role in the agency in particular, and in the Federal Government in general.


Agency Orientation

A. Structure & Organization of the Agency
B. Structure & Organization of DOI/USDA and the Federal Government
C. The Federal Government and the Agency
D. The Individual's Role in the Agency and the Federal Government

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Knowledge and comprehension of the structure of the agency, DOI/USDA and the Federal Government

Ability to represent the agency as an employee of the organization

Knowledge of the basics of how government works

3.Resource Stewardship

Description:This competency requires an overall understanding of the spectrum of resources protected by the agency; the range of agency responsibilities in managing these resources; the individual's role in resource stewardship; the planning process and its purpose in the agency; and working with partners outside the agency to promote resource stewardship.


Resource Stewardship

A. Resources in the Agency
B. The Stewardship Function
C. Sustainable Practices Philosophy
D. The Individual's Role in Resources Stewardship
E. The Agency Planning Process
F. The Purpose of Partnerships

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Knowledge of the variety of agency resources

Ability to articulate the agency stewardship function and to explain an individual's role in supporting it

Basic knowledge of the agency planning process and how it contributes to resource stewardship

Knowledge of why the agency needs partners to fulfill its stewardship responsibilities

4. Fundamental Values

Description:This competency focuses on an employee's ability to exhibit certain attitudes and behaviors to accomplish an assigned job and to contribute to the overall health of the organization. These include: leadership and teamwork behaviors; ethical behavior towards people and the organization; support of cultural diversity and fairness issues in the workplace; support of accessible parks and workplaces; an attitude towards safe behavior for one's self and for others; and mental and physical fitness.


Fundamental Values

A. Leadership & Teamwork Behaviors
B. Ethics in Work and Government
C. Cultural Diversity and Equal Opportunity Issues
D. Accessibility Issues
E. Basic Risk Management (Safety)
F. Employee Fitness

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Ability to provide leadership at one's particular level in the organization

Ability to function as a member of a team

Ability to assess one's attitudes about one's standards towards others and one's employer and conducting one's self in an ethical manner

Knowledge about Equal Opportunity and what it means, and ability to support cultural diversity in the workplace

Knowledge about Accessibility and how to apply it to parks and the workplace

Ability to maintain basic mental and physical fitness for the job

Knowledge of safe work habits and ability to apply them

5.Agency Operations

Description:This competency encompasses a general comprehension of the basic operations of the agency, especially at the local level; and how these operations interact to fulfill the mission of the agency.


Agency Operations - Expand to meet individual agency essential competencies.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Broad knowledge and understanding of the various aspects of the local unit interactions and how they work together to accomplish the agency and local unit missions

Knowledge of the external agency operations and how they work together to accomplish the agency and local unit missions

6.Communication Skills

Description:This competency encompasses the ability to communicate effectively with the public and employees in writing and speech; to work as an effective team member; to use interpersonal skills to be an effective employee; and to exhibit basic computer abilities.


Communication Skills

A. Basic Literacy
B. Writing & Speaking Skills
C. How to be an Effective Team Member
D. Interpersonal Skills
E. Basic Computer Skills

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Ability to write basic letters and reports and to fill out basic forms for routine agency operations

Ability to speak effectively one-on-one and to small groups

Basic knowledge of how a team of people work together to accomplish a common goal

Ability to use interpersonal skills to become an effective employee

Ability to perform basic computer technological skills such as word-processing or electronic mail

7.Problem-Solving Skills

Description:This competency deals with the ability to analyze, build consensus, make decisions, and practice innovation in various aspects of one's job.


Problem-Solving Skills

A. Analytical Skills
B. Consensus-Building Skills
C. Decision-Making Skills
D. Innovation Skills

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Ability to analyze a simple situation, make conclusions, and recommend a course of action

Ability to participate in discussions and lead self and group to consensus

Ability to identify and implement innovative methods at one's particular level in the organization

8.Individual Development and Planning

Description:This competency considers an individual's being able to work with one's supervisor and agency to plan a course of action for one's performance, career, and ultimately, retirement.


Individual Planning and Development

A. Individual Development
B. Performance Assessment
C. Career and Retirement Planning

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Ability to use performance appraisal to assess one's performance strengths and weaknesses leading to improvement

Ability to set personal goals for career development and to implement actions with agency and supervisory support to attain them

National Park Service
Training and Development Division
Essential Competencies

TOC Next Page