Bowing to increased safety and liability concerns, federal and state agencies have suspended the use of youth crews on wildland fire lines in Nevada.
But officials at the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Division of Forestry said the crews still would be used in non-hazardous roles off the lines.
“These crews are a valuable resource and we will continue to use youth crews nationwide in less hazardous positions in support of fire suppression,” said Alice Forbes, assistant director of fire operations for the Forest Service.
Three 20-person crews operated by Youth Centers in Elko and Caliente in cooperation with the state forestry division are affected.
The use of the crews is being suspended while the National Wildfire Coordinating Group examines the risks involved with using youth crews to fight wildland fires, said BLM Nevada State Director Bob Abbey.
“The Nevada youth fire crews have made an enormous contribution to firefighting in Nevada and the nation in the past 43 years. This action in no way reflects upon the safety record or capabilities of these youth,” Abbey said.
Nevada State Forester Steve Robinson said the federal government is unsure of its legal position on youth crews at this point.
Earlier this month, officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho issued a nationwide directive prohibiting people under 18 years of age from performing hazardous duties during fires on federal land.
They noted federal law makes 18 the minimum age for employment in hazardous occupations, but state laws apparently vary on the issue.
The officials acknowledged changes in their directive might be made pending a full review by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group later this year.
“We are saddened that federal regulations imposed on us have caused this situation,” Robinson said. “My first objective now is to ensure these young people have alternative work off the fire lines.”