We face many important questions when we retire. Do I want to keep working? Can I afford to be completely retired? If I want or need to keep working, do I go it alone or join an existing company? Do I take those family vacations that were displaced by so many fire seasons? Do I take a year off and figure out what I would like to do next?
While most of the founders of Wildland Fire Associates (WFA) faced those questions, one of the founders faced a mid-career retirement because there were very young children at home, and a whole lot of travel would have been required to do the current job well.
The WFA founders had been friends and coworkers for many years. Facing the life changes of old doors closing while new doors were opening led to a meeting in Reno. After a wide-ranging discussion, we settled on the idea of starting a new company dedicated to using our professional skills and personal commitments to:
- provide the best possible products to our clients by using our wide-ranging and varied backgrounds
- promote fire management through scientifically-based methods
- advance strategies to promote firefighter safety
- attract and maintain Associates with extensive experience in planning, operations, aviation and overall management, with experience ranging from implementing ground-level to national-level policies
The decision to start WFA has led to 15 years of working to develop and update over 50 fire management plans for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and private land owners in many regions of the U.S. That springboard has allowed us to expand.
- developed Community Wildfire Protection Plans in several states – including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Pennsylvania and Oregon
- developed a state-wide fuels assessment for Nevada BLM
- provided subject matter expertise for a wide-range of legal cases
- provided consultation and assistance with the investigation of a large-scale firefighter fatality.
WFA is currently conducting a full-scale review of a state-level fire management program, updating a complex CWPP in Oregon, updating several fire management plans to meet spatial fire planning specifications, and providing forest worker safety training in New Mexico.
Here are some of the lessons that we have learned from this wild ride. Some may sound clichéd, but they have served us well:
- Anything is possible if you set your mind to itWFA has always believed that when we clearly identify what we need, we can act when opportunities arise. We knew that we had marketable skills, but we did not have access to many of the contracts we needed. We also knew that if we could get on the GSA Schedule, then we could get work. So we hired a business manager who helped us get on the GSA Schedule. The result was several years of successfully writing fire management plans and environmental compliance documents, which established a firm foundation for WFA. We continue to look to the future and position the company to respond to changing policies and opportunities
- Flexibility is the key to successAs budgets shift and new priorities appear, WFA has restructured to follow the new opportunities. We stay current with policies, research and budget issues, and use this knowledge to attract Associates with skills to respond to new opportunities. Having the right people on our team is the key piece to helping us remain flexible and accept the opportunities as they arise
- Keep overhead expenses as low as possibleThe WFA business model is based upon running a lean race. Our clients benefit from our competitive prices and low overhead. Our Associates benefit from access to business management services that include invoicing, prompt payments, tax services, and company insurance; as well as access to our website and social media for promotional purposes. WFA has reviewed the marketing tools that we have used, and have identified the ones that are most effective. We focus advertising on what will work and what will be the most effective use of advertising dollars.
- Meet potential Associates where they areWFA truly values our Associates. We recognize that many newly retired wildland fire and resource managers know they want to continue working in some capacity, but don’t know what they want to do, and are concerned about over-committing their time.The WFA business model addresses retirees’ concerns in two ways:WFA will make work opportunities available as they arise. For example, if WFA is putting together a team for a proposal and needs an Incident Commander, then we will ask an Associate qualified as an IC to help with the proposal and then work on the project if it is awarded to WFA.Associates can bring work to WFA, and not have to worry about the business management end. WFA will provide all business management support, allowing the associate to focus on what they are good at and truly interested in doing.
- Focus on High Quality Business ManagementIn order to support Associates so that they can focus on their area of expertise, WFA places a special emphasis on providing high quality business management, including timekeeping, invoicing, tax services, and access to social media.The website has provided the greatest return as an advertising tool. Associates with photos and biographies on the website have had the greatest success getting work opportunities.