A Senate infrastructure bill will address many wildland fire issues

The Capitol, Washington, DC
The Capitol, Washington, DC. Photo by Bill Gabbert

A $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill with funding for some wildland fire issues passed an important procedural vote in the Senate Friday that opened up the legislative package to the next phase, potential changes and amendments. In the evenly divided body at least 60 votes are needed for amendments and final passage. It received 66 today which allows it to move forward in the process. The Senate version of the bill is S.2377 – Energy Infrastructure Act.

About 0.3 percent, or approximately $3,369,000,000 in this $1 trillion “small” infrastructure bill is directed at wildland fire. Another infrastructure bill that may spend more than $3 trillion will be considered later.

The $1 trillion version appropriates funds toward a couple of dozen wildland fire issues, most of which are important, but especially a few that have been near and dear to the hearts of Federal firefighters Forestry Technicians for years, especially the creation of a Wildland Firefighter occupational series. This would mean if the bill passes they will no longer be pigeonholed as they are now in a Forestry Technician job description. A bump in salary is also included.

After it made it onto the Senate floor this week things started happening quickly. While amendments can be brought forward, there is hope that the final version could receive a vote in a matter of days, perhaps as early as Sunday August 1. If not then, probably soon thereafter. However, with politicians and legislation anything is possible — or sometimes impossible. After it passes the Senate, then it moves to the House where the outcome is less certain. The politicians and staffers are motivated to do SOMETHING, because they are anxious to leave on their August recess.

The bill authorizes $600 million for management of personnel — those who fight fires.

  • The bill directs OPM to develop a distinct “wildland firefighter” occupational series.
  • The DOI and FS shall convert no fewer than 1,000 seasonal wildland firefighters to wildland firefighters that are full-time, permanent, year-round Federal employees who will reduce hazardous fuels on Federal land for at least 800 hours each year.
  • The base salaries of Federal wildland firefighters will be increased by the lesser of an amount that is commensurate with an increase of $20,000 per year or an amount equal to 50 percent of the base salary.
  • Develop mitigation strategies for wildland firefighters to minimize exposure due to line-of-duty environmental hazards.
  • Establish programs for permanent, temporary, seasonal, and year-round wildland firefighters to recognize and address mental health needs, including care for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other provisions of the the bill, authorized for fiscal years 2022 through 2026. (M = million)

  • $20M, Satellite fire detection
  • $10M, Radio interoperability
  • $30M, Reverse 911 systems
  • $50M, Slip-on firefighting modules for pickup trucks
  • $100M, Pre-fire planning, and training personnel for wildland firefighting and vegetation treatments
  • $20M, Data management for fuels projects and large fires
  • $20M, Joint Fire Science Program (research)
  • $100M, Planning & implementing projects under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program
  • $500M, Mechanical thinning, timber harvesting, pre-commercial thinning
  • $500M, Wildfire defense grants for at risk communities
  • $500M, Prescribed fires
  • $500M, Constructing fuelbreaks
  • $200M, Remove fuels, produce biochar and other innovative wood products
  • $200M, Post-fire restoration
  • $8M, Firewood banks
  • $10M, Wildfire detection and real-time monitoring equipment

One issue this legislation does not address is the inadequate funding of aerial firefighting, the use of air tankers and helicopters to assist firefighters on the ground by dropping water or retardant to slow the spread of wildfires, which is necessary for Homeland Security. The Federal agencies entered the year with 18 large air tankers and 28 large Type 1 helicopters, when they should have 40 large air tankers and 50 large helicopters on exclusive use 10-year contracts instead of the existing 1-year contracts.

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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.

29 thoughts on “A Senate infrastructure bill will address many wildland fire issues”

  1. I’ll believe it when I see it. Was told 19 years ago nearly the same thing. Never manifested itself. They need to address the other issue, young kids out of high school no longer want to do this job. They want to be influencers and be handed a job making six figures a year where they don’t have to work hard.

  2. The one item I thought was interesting was the $50 million for “slip-on” units. I think this list was left over from the 1950’s. A few items on the list were just concept thoughts in the ’50s. Satellite detection and fire monitoring. So you detect a fire then what (Tamarack).

  3. 40 Air tankers? Try hundreds. There should be 2 type 3’s and at least 1-2 type 1’s w/in 15 minutes of every large chunk of wildland/rangeland all across the country. We should never have to beg for air tankers, ever. There is no reason we should be dinking around with a few here and there. Scrap the useless F35 and l use that money to build some purpose-built Air Tankers.

  4. IF a new series comes out of this, they’ve got to to have fuels responsibilities, too. Cannot have Wildland firefighters waiting around to go to fires, it’s actually a small part of the job. Year around, with fuels in the job description, good way to stay sharp and be productive.

  5. That’s what was described in the article.

    “The DOI and FS shall convert no fewer than 1,000 seasonal wildland firefighters to wildland firefighters that are full-time, permanent, year-round Federal employees who will reduce hazardous fuels on Federal land for at least 800 hours each year.”

    Like I said. Good luck finding people wanting to work.

    I’m glad that Bill includes 8M for firewood banks. Just cut and stack it along the roads when you do you fuels reduction projects and anyone with a firewood permit will take it. No need to burn or chip it. The poor bastsrds on the CA-SQF felling, bucking, and piling hazard trees to burn for 8 hours a day in in the Trail of 100 giants was stupid. 24-36″ DBH trees being bucked into 4-6″ rounds and piled. Set aside certain times in which to allow the locals to be escorted in and haul it off. Or commercial firewood dealers pay to take it. Again the lack of common sense in managing the forest sometimes is astounding. I guess since it is CA the legal liability supercedes common sense.

  6. That’s a very inadequate amount of money to increase forest treatments to help create mosaics of forest types across landscapes and entire basins. What we have now are continuous forest masses that carry fire until nature stops them because you can’t fight crown fires with any kind of efficiency or effectiveness.

  7. Only North Korea dictates what you can and can not do . We live in a country where we are free to choose our on paths not every kid wants to go to college , not every kids wants to work in the woods . It also doesn’t mean they are lazy cause they don’t want a job working outside either .

  8. I have been through this Cr** before, I worked Fire for the USFS for 27 good but ? for Pay years.
    Started as a GS-3 on a Hand Creew and finished as a EDSP and Logistics was my forte. I worked Yellowstone and hundreds of fires and huge Complexes on a Engine, hand Crews, Hot Shots and Over Head in Dispatch Centers in almost every Stare in the Union! I worked hard and received superior training from people like Jennifer DeJung who was the first Woman to retire under Fire Fighter Retirement, Redding Training Center, CDF (Cal Fire) and a host of other agencies.
    It was always a Battle working at Logistics at Dispatch Centers, Coordination Centers for Feds, State and Private. It was always, “The Budget this and the Budget that or, we can’t get approval to hire up some badly needed Resource. Once the IC of a large fire in Washington requested Feller-Bunches by the score (s) To get approval to get “Qualified” F-B’s & Operators was a nightmare. I don’t give a **** who is going to Pay for them, The Fire Needed Them. And the IC was one of the Best.
    So I have seen the Bills get passed by our Legislators and because of their short term memory on a subject that they have no knowledge of other that “Wildland Firefighters are Unskilled Laborers or College Student Working their Summers in the Forest with Wet Gunnysacks.
    This is just another Hype, the Feds will continue working in run down building built in the 1929 or by the original CCC & WCF. And Pay will never come close to Agencies like Cal Firs and so many other.
    So this is another round of Smoke Blowing until the Snow flys.
    Don’t believe a word of it.
    But as a Warning, this is only the beginning of Summer to come. Don’t believe in Global Warming??
    Just wait until some FMO decides to let a little Lightening Strike Fire at the base of a Tree surrounded by Rocks Burn because it the “”Natural Thing To Do and it goes for 300,000 acres and burn up Your Home and a few hundred others and possibly causes Loss of Life, God Forbid!!
    And we may be on the verge of multiple Million Acres Conflagrations.
    For the Want of a Nail.
    But what do I know?
    Thanks to every Fire Fighter who is out on the Front Line and eating Mystery Meat Sandwiches to the Best of their ability because it’s their Job to do so. Be Proud!

  9. “ Good luck finding people wanting to work.”

    No. The statement should be “Good luck finding people to work this s****y job”.

    People in my permanent hiring cohort left: 2

    I now make triple the salary with no overtime and I sleep in my bed every night. One guy is a private arborist. One is a correctional officer. Two are city firefighters. One is a county firefighter. One opened a coffee shop.

    See the pattern? Regular schedules, more money, less physical.

  10. Jesee, There are a lot of us who want to work, but HR and NPS/FS lawyers will not let us! Reinstate us! Let us work!

  11. Agreed….what happened to the BD (Brush Disposal) crews of yesteryear…..1990’s and before
    Somebody creating a new OPM series will think they invented it…when ,yes, in reality it was in some or most job descriptions….or not CLEAR enough or spelled out


  12. >>> About three percent, or approximately $3,369,000,000 in this $1 trillion “small” infrastructure bill

    That’s approx. 0.3% of $1 Trillion.

  13. Times have changed. After 14 years of federal service in wildland fire and a “natural resource management degree” I have seen a distinct personality shift in new hires. Young people often want to stay in an instant gratification bubble. Very few young, new wildland fire fighters have the capability to see the long term benefit and investment that can be returned from gritty, grimmy, sleepless, thankless hard work.

  14. For the reference of BD and KV dollars of yesteryear, they are still being used today. Positions on some forests obviously are not funded year round, and in my case we do projects throughout the summer and fall to keep us around during with winter employment. Other forests need a better fuels program is this is not happening else where. A lot of fuels reduction can be done this way around WUI.

    All in all, can’t wait to see the end result of all this. “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

  15. Not interested in that on top of 1200 hrs of overtime…maybe makes sense for some folks who sit around a lot

  16. Well you’re the minority. As a former supervisor tasked with hiring seasonals, before I left in 2019 we exhausted the entire early consideration list of nearly 200 applicants trying to fill 15 vacancies district wide. There were more vacancies than that, but several were filled with returnees. This was the first time that list had been exhausted and we had not been able fill all vacancies. I do agree that employees who want to work should be allowed to regardless of their 1039. Not to mention standardized PD’s and pay would help why we have PFT GS-8 engine captains in one place but career seasonal GS-7 engine formen in other places made no sense or allowed for retention of good employees. Also hiring winter time fuels seasonals while laying off career seasonal employees seemed pretty bass ackwards to me. Sure you have some who want to take their layoffs but I knew plenty who wanted to keep working but we’re not allowed. Also if you promote to a supervisory position they should always be PFT with no option for layoff. From what I witnessed this caused for a disconnect over the winter. The policies most fed land management agencies follow were written 50 years ago and no one wants to deviate from that. Times change and management and employment strategies should adapt with them.

  17. Those who choose to work on an IHC signed up for it. Don’t like it change jobs or get on helitack.

  18. LOLOL
    For me it was 1991 thru 1995 when I was w BLM and USFWS….clear enough for me at the State level, too…….these days I wonder much…..That’s why after 50 yrs of same ol same ol hiring practices…SPELL it out
    Other duties as assigned. got that in the US Army, too…US Sam’s janitorial service……1919 barracks better taken care of than most LMA “housing units!”

  19. Jesse, there are over 600 of us who the FS will not rehire. Very long story, but basically we are being blacked balled by HR. We’ve talked to the former chief, congressmen/women, VP, and Pres. Nothing seems to help. I think it’s time for things to change in the hiring process. Anyway, good luck out there! Stay safe!

  20. You’re right we do live in this great free country where we can do as we choose. Its lack of work ethic and the sense of entitlement fueled by this woke generation. Google lack of blue collar workers.

  21. In reply to “WFM,” ask your District TMA if he or she is collecting “K2” dollars on each timber sale.
    These are monies that can be collected after primary KV funds and BD Collections are accomplished.
    Almost no one has even heard of this opportunity. Ask about it. The WO knows because they gave the authority to collect them. Now, here’s the key point. K2 money can be used OUTSIDE THE SALE AREA AS WELL AS ANYWHERE IN THE , wREGION WHERE IT WAS COLLECTED. WFM, you mentioned the need to do work in the WUI, K2 money can be used for that on your District.
    The problem is most RDs do not understand this opportunity. Good luck with it.

  22. I read the bill and it eludes to only wildland firefighters that are in the GS-0462 Forestry Technician Series. There are a lot of primary wildland firefighters who are either in a different series (for example 0455) or in a different schedule like WG which could be a 5716 Fire Dozer Operator (Primary Position) and this bill leaves them asking further questions. These positions at current are not included within this bill. More thought should be given to the whole of wildland firefighting positions/raises; then a knee jerk at trying to fix only one series within governments realm of wildland firefighting in my opinion.

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