Revised federal firefighter pay bill may be introduced in Congress

Last year the federal wildland firefighter pay and liability bill, H.R. 4488: National Wildfire Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act, was introduced in Congress but never made it out of committee. Wildfire Today evaluated the bill. Since it was not acted upon in the 111th congress, which ended last year, it died — a painful, slow, permanent death. The Federal Wildland Fire Service Association (FWFSA) has produced a draft of a new bill, and hopes to find some members of Congress to sponsor and introduce it under its new name, “National Wildfire Suppression Cost Containment Act“.

The new draft is similar in some respects to the last version, however there are some very important differences. Thankfully, THANKFULLY, this latest version REPEALS  the terrible, ill-advised, Hastings Cantwell Act, PL 107-203 of 2002 which requires that all fatalities of U. S. Forest Service (USFS) personnel on a wildland fire be investigated by the Department of Agriculture Inspector General’s office. The IG investigators in the DoA are far over their heads when it comes to assigning blame and evaluating tactics and strategy on a wildland fire. Their skill set is best suited for investing fraud at chicken ranches and food additive companies. Under the Hastings Cantwell Act these law enforcement officers are tasked with digging out violations of the law among firefighters with the possibility of sending them to jail for split-second decisions made in the heat of battle. Ellreese Daniels was a victim of this Act, following decisions he made on the Thirtymile fire.

The legislation that the FWFSA championed last year did not repeal the Hastings Cantwell Act — it doubled down on it. They wanted to EXPAND the act to include the land management agencies in the Department of Interior in addition to the USFS. We are pleased that the FWFSA has reversed course on this very important firefighter liability issue.

Firefighters should be held accountable for their actions but sending them to jail is not the answer. The Sadler fire is an example where some good decisions were made after the fire, following some terrible ones that were made during the fire.

Other changes in the draft bill over last year’s version include:

  • There is no mention of the firefighter mandatory retirement age. The previous bill raised it to 65.
  • The section about prohibiting outsourcing was deleted.
  • It includes a new section about stove-piping the chain of command for fire management personnel. It would “remove Line Officer authority for Wildland Fire Preparedness and Suppression and reestablish that authority in the order of Chief of the FS (for the Forest Service), Director of FAM, Regional Directors for FAM, Forest Fire Management Officers to District Fire Management Officers. In the case of Department of Interior agencies, a similar structure will be developed.”

The most striking and controversial feature of the bill, which was also in last year’s version, is the three-year pilot program for portal-to-portal pay, which would enable firefighters to be paid 24 hours a day while they are on fire assignments:

…the hours of work officially ordered or approved in excess of 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day shall be considered overtime work, inclusive of all time the firefighter is away from their official duty station assigned to an emergency incident…

Wildfire Today supports this legislation in it’s present form.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Revised federal firefighter pay bill may be introduced in Congress”

  1. Just some simple math: 16hr wrk day


    Base (8hr) @ $19.92/hr= $159.36
    H pay (16hr) @ $4.98/hr = $79.68
    OT (8hr) @ $29.88/hr= $239.04
    = $478.08

    Base (24hr) @ $19.92/hr= $478.08

    Of course if you’re not pulling 16 hour days then there will be a big difference…

  2. The current Congress is dealing with saving money, not spending it so I would not hold my breath on portal to portal pay.

    It’s going to cost a LOT of money for a fire if they go to portal to portal for federal employees.


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