30 October 2020

Wildfires in the Workplace: Navigating my Remote Position in the Wildland Fire Service

I am used to being the youngest professional in the office. I have held a job since I was 16 years old, the legal working age in New York City.

It is a big city for a teenage girl hoping for an income, guidance, and maybe some experience. And it can be cold and cruel for someone with no experience, let alone a girl--let alone a Latina girl. It is easy to feel lost in one of the largest and most diverse cities in the United States. I quickly learned to not only adapt, but thrive at any job I held. I knew it was the only way to distract people from the fact that I am simply a Latina. So, I was the only teenager serving coffee at Starbucks. Then, I found myself teaching English literature at my community college, tutoring students older than me. Shortly after, a teaching assistant at 19. Administrative assistant at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation office at 20 years old. An intern at the United States Senate at 21. Now, a Resource Assistant at the United States Forest Service, under the United States Department of Agriculture. Assisting Smokey the Bear in fighting wildfires.

This is exactly the place that 16 year old Serina Morales dreamt herself being a part of. But, it is not how I imagined it. I often adapt, and because of this capability, stand out amongst my peers and colleagues. I graduated top of my class at NYU. But now your work at the U.S. Forest Service is not graded. No, the assignments you are given are earned. As I enter my second month with the Forest Service, admittedly I am looking for small ways to prove myself every day. 

When you are on the inside of such a large federal agency, you see how important political outcomes are to achieving our goals and our mission. The Forest Service is currently dealing with a huge budget cut, and I have often heard my supervisors adjusting and reimagining goals to fit within the bounds of money. To see the inner political stakes has pushed my own interests in our government. I started volunteering with my local representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Her office donates food to local pantries, encourages my community to vote, and offers a plethora of ideas that are textbook with my generation. The first day I went out into the streets with an AOC shirt and a table full of fliers, I received strong reactions. The presence of AOC and her mission gave people hope, others anger; but many were simply glad to see us and discuss our political representative. 

I am simply a volunteer with the AOC campaign; on the other hand, I go to work every day with the chance to participate in an organization that hopes to positively influence our environmental spaces. At the same time, I do not think I have fully grasped the power my department has over environmental endeavours, as our director has Vice President Elect Kamala Harris on speed dial. Unlike any other job I have had, I have yet to fully comprehend my role in this place; but I am eager to learn, and am almost in disbelief that I find myself in a place where such powerful people are curious about my ideas.

I believe I can make a difference in this place, or perhaps use this job to make a difference. I just have not figured out how yet. 

Agency: U.S Forest Service

Program: Resource Assistant Program (RAP)

Location: Wildland Fire Training Center

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