I can appreciate that staff work on Capitol Hill is not always fast-paced and exciting, but when Republican aides are passing the time with wildfire office pools, there’s a problem.

Tens of thousands of firefighters employed by the federal government battled flames last year that scorched more than 8 million acres and caused billions of dollars in damage. And what were the Capitol Hill staffers responsible for their fates doing? Playing games — literally.

Officials with the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, representing thousands of federal firefighters, complained this week to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee after learning that some committee staffers ran an office pool to guess how many acres are burned by wildfires each year.

The contest, run since 2003 by veteran staffer Frank Gladics, was open mostly to Republican staffers on the House and Senate energy and appropriations committees that oversee federal firefighting operations. While no money exchanged hands, Gladics would bequeath the winner one of several hats in his office, including a Wizard hat, a “When Pigs Fly” hat and the mechanical “Holly-Jolly Christmas Hat.”

Sarah Laskow first reported on this story last week.

As Joan McCarter noted, the spokesperson for the committee argued the office pool wasn’t intended to be callous: “It’s meant instead for the edification of eastern lawmakers who aren’t as experienced in wildfire. ‘It’s not an official way to educate them,’ [Robert Dillon] said. ‘It’s a fun, backroom way to do it.’”

Those who actually dealt with the fires, and their families, are struggling to find the “fun” in the Republicans’ game.

Lynnette Hamm’s 24-year-old son, Caleb, died last summer while fighting a wildfire with a Bureau of Land Management Hot Shot crew. She wasn’t pleased to learn of the GOP office pool, telling the Washington Post the Republicans’ antics are “truly appalling.” She added, “These men and women put their lives on the line daily, and to be so belittled by something like this? I would be ashamed of myself. Maybe they should trade a ‘cushy’ office chair for a spot on the fireline, and let’s bet how long they last at it.”

What were those guys thinking?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.