Grassroots Wildland Firefighters on CBS News

Discusses pay, pending legislation, and other issues

11:30 a.m. PDT Oct. 3, 2021

Riva Duncan, Executive Secretary of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters on CBS Sunday Morning, Oct. 3, 2021.

Riva Duncan, Executive Secretary of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, was interviewed live today on CBS Sunday Morning. You can view the segment here.  

She was asked about the provisions in the infrastructure bill that is now languishing in the House of Representatives after being passed in the Senate.

About 0.3 percent, or approximately $3,369,000,000 in this $1 trillion infrastructure bill is directed at wildland fire. Another much more controversial “reconciliation” bill, mostly about social programs that may spend more than $3 trillion, is much more controversial, but some politicians want the two bills to be passed at the same time.

In additional to customary infrastructure like roads and bridges, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill 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.

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 that are related to Wildland fire. (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.

8 thoughts on “Grassroots Wildland Firefighters on CBS News”

  1. IMO, no need for 40 air tankers on EU contracts. More cost effective to have fewer (say, 20) for 180 day contracts and stagger start dates. Then another 20 on CWN, when you really need them (July, August, September). Doesn’t make sense to pay daily availability for 40 tankers to standby for half the season. The government is the customer, let’s not pay for having aircraft sit around. The companies will get by with adjusting their bids, especially for CWN. They can be called up if needed, when some years are busier than others.

  2. 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.

    This is a misnomer, I believe this only applies to hard to fill duty stations and is not across the board by any means according to how it is written in the bill.

    1. Be great if any of these folks that are asking for all this funding can also come up with a sustainable way to pay for it all or at least the portions they want. No need for 50 tankers and 20k wildland fire fighters with good paying jobs if the rest of the country is too broke to pay for it or busting their asses 60 hours/6 days a week to pay for it and cant enjoy what is being supposedly protected. No funding of any kind should be issued without real accountability and long term sustainability for these funds

  3. Looks like there continues to be underfunding for forest management (timber harvesting).
    The Northwest Wildfire Institute and associated Call To Action document have outlined what’s needed, yet this Bill fails to properly address this key issue when it’s likely we could have 1-2 BILLION bf of salvage, let alone green tree harvesting and management to address the overloaded fuels in specific areas on federal land.

  4. Hey Bill,
    Just wondering why you have not addressed the Vaccine Mandate for WW Firefighters and the repercussions it will have on the firefighting #’s in the near future. It is going to have a real affect on the how many folks are out on the line, something you guys have been harping on lately. So now, on top of the issues you do highlight, like wages and benefits, there is this issue. Why not do some reporting on it’s effects? There are a lot of FF’s willing to walk away because of it. I realize that this is an “Opinion” site and you may not want to push or ask the questions because it does not fit with your opinions, but this issue will have an effect on the resources on the ground and that is something that this web site has championed for a long time! Just asking…. by the even though I do not agree with every opinion you have on issues I value it and continue to read your articles because I can always learn something from them and you do a good job of keeping people informed on things. Thanks for that!

  5. Aerial firefighting should be near the forefront –say at least 500 million . A few of the categories asked for ,seem a little sketchy ! There is room to carve out money for Aircraft ,and the appropriate support needed. . The firefighting aircraft issue gets ignored ,year after year! Where does the Chief of the USFS stand on this ??

  6. Bill your the man for maintaining ongoing coverage of this. Thank you for that. Riva is just the bees knees. She continues to wow me in her “retirement”. Very thankful and fortunate to have her in our ranks.


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