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‘Fire and Ice’ program provides year-round opportunities for seasonal workers

An ODOT plow clears snow on I-5 in the Siskiyous. File photo.
An ODOT plow clears snow on I-5 in the Siskiyous. File photo.

When you drive over a mountain pass in Oregon this winter, the person who cleared the highway of snow just might be a firefighter.

Since the 1980’s, some of the people hired by the Oregon Department of Forestry to fight wildfires in the summer have also worked for ODOT as snow plow drivers in the winter. The two agencies call the crossover employment opportunity the “Fire and Ice” program.

Even though wildfire season seems to get longer each year, there’s still relatively little overlap on the calendar between the two jobs.

“We need our seasonal workers in the summer for firefighting," said Oregon Department of Forestry spokesperson Natalie Weber. "And [the Oregon Department of Transportation needs] theirs in the winter for road maintenance. And so it really just became the perfect partnership to be able to help those employees to bridge the gap, and work within our agencies to find creative solutions for staffing.”

Even with the “Fire and Ice” program, ODOT has warned that a shortage of plow drivers might cause delays in getting roads cleared of snow this winter.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”