Senator Diane Feinstein has introduced the Wildland Firefighter Pay Act, a bill that would raise the maximum limit on overtime pay for federal firefighters. The current limit affects higher level employees at the GS-12 and above level, and some GS-11s depending on if they are exempt from the provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the existing provisions if they work hundreds of hours of overtime they may reach the cap after which they earn no more money. In some cases later in the fire season employees who spent a lot of time fighting fires have been told they earned too much and were forced to pay some of it back.
The proposed legislation eliminates the existing annual and pay period limits and creates a new one that places the maximum annual pay including overtime at Level II of the Executive Schedule, which in 2020 was $197,300.
“The current overtime pay cap for these brave men and women is outdated and represents a significant hurdle in retaining our most-experienced firefighters,” Senator Feinstein said. “Lifting this cap would ensure that these first responders are fairly paid for their hard work while helping build a federal firefighting service that can meet the challenges of our ‘new normal’ when it comes to wildfires.”
The Forest Service estimates that up to 500 senior-level firefighters either stop participating or do not request pay for hours worked once they reach the pay cap. This has a significant effect on federal wildfire response capabilities.
Senator Feinstein’s press release did not mention raising the pay of the federal wildland firefighters who live paycheck to paycheck.
UPDATE Oct. 26, 2021. The Senate bill has a number now: S.138 – Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, introduced January 28,2021; no other action has been taken. The House of Representatives version of this bill is H.R.4274 – Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, introduced June 30, 2021, and has been referred to two committees. A hearing will be held Oct. 27, 2021 before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.