Who should receive credit for the wildland firefighter provisions in the recently passed infrastructure legislation?

Wildland firefighters
Wildland firefighters. USFS image.

The infrastructure bill passed by Congress last week will significantly change the employment landscape for federal wildland firefighters. We covered the details earlier, but it includes pay raises, a distinct “wildland firefighter” occupational series, mental health support, conversions of 1,000 seasonal wildland firefighters to permanent full-time, and many other issues — totaling $3.3 billion for fire management.

This is an unprecedented, probably once in a lifetime legislative achievement. Some of the changes are so sweeping that there may be a need to smooth out some unanticipated consequences. There could be opportunities for fine tuning in two other pending bills:  H.R. 4274 Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, and H.R. 5631 Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act. Brief descriptions of the two bills are in the article we published October 26.

All but the most cynical will look at the bill passed last week as a huge step toward improving the work environment for 15,000 firefighters and hopefully will begin to turn around issues with hiring and retention. The fire management section was drafted by legislators, as well as staffers for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Many special interest groups provided input. One of them was Grassroots Wildland Firefighters (GRWFF).

“There is so much noise in the system around the pending legislation,” wrote GRWFF President Kelly Martin in an email last week just before the final passage. “We want to make sure it’s clear that these are not ‘our’ bills. These bill’s are the legislator’s and we’ve only served as subject matter experts for them. We really want to be clear that we are not seeking credit. The credit belongs to the wildland firefighters out busting their asses and to the families of those who have died.”

Ms. Martin submitted the statement below from the organization. She said it was written by herself, Vice President Lucas Mayfield, and Executive Secretary Riva Duncan.

Grassroots Wildland Firefighters (GRWFF) would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who is supporting the wildland fire community and fighting for long overdue reforms, and to thank Bill Gabbert for letting us use this forum for much needed open and honest dialog

We’d also like to help clarify some potential misunderstandings people might be talking about. We’ve seen a few articles, comments, posts that H.R. 5631, Tim’s Act, is “our” bill. No legislative bill is ‘owned’ by any particular special interest group, GRWFF included. Legislation belongs to the legislators and their staffs who write these bills. Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) initially introduced the “Infrastructure Bill” with wide-spread bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, and Reps Neguse (D-CO) and Porter (D-CA) and their staffs wrote “HR 5631, better known as Tim’s Act.” The GRWFF serve as subject matter experts when reviewing and drafting bill language, as do many other groups. We have been extremely fortunate legislators have reached out to us as known experts in the field of federal wildland fire workforce issues. Collectively, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters provide hundreds of years of professional experience to help educate and inform elected officials of needed federal reforms wildland firefighters deserve given the high risk and hazardous workplace conditions. We, along with many other special interest groups, will continue to advocate for long overdue reforms. We owe our elected officials a tremendous  debt of gratitude for their deep interest in these fundamental reforms which will affect federal Wildland Firefighters for generations to come. 

The existing and former workforce and their families deserve the credit. To the firefighters on the firelines, whether they are ground-based, aerial delivered, or arrive by equipment, we are proud you trust us to deliver your stories; it is the fire management officers and duty officers; the dispatchers and the prevention technicians; the fuels technicians; and, sadly, it is the firefighters, and their families, who have paid the ultimate price. All of these dedicated and passionate women and men deserve the credit for the successes so far. They are the ones who face daily risks of severe injury and death; daily hazardous and often toxic environmental conditions and the ones who shoulder the mental, financial and emotional trauma of this very demanding profession. We advocate together for these needed reforms      

We want no credit. We are not interested in any perceived “ownership.” We only want meaningful change and reforms. We want a cohesive effort and voice for the existing workforce that leads to lasting and positive change. 

Tim’s Act builds upon the groundwork that pending legislation offers up. Unlike the Infrastructure Bill, there are no sunset provisions in Tim’s Act. These are permanent reforms that are needed for the workforce. It is the “cup trench” for the uphill battle that wildland firefighters, their families, and friends face in the coming decades. It has broad bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate. Tim’s Act is something that both Republican and Democrat elected officials can agree to. It finally addresses broad reforms as a path to modernizing the federal wildland firefighter workforce. It is bipartisan legislation which works to ensure we recruit and retain highly trained, experienced and qualified federal wildland firefighters to respond, at a federal level, to all-risk, all-hazard disasters throughout the US and when requested, provide international wildfire support as well. 

We are just beginning our journey together. We will continue to speak for those who cannot. We will continue to provide our expertise and experience to those who ask for it and for those who fight alongside us. We are in it for the long-game. You and your colleagues have the ability to speak up, too. We are taught to lead up, and if we see something, we say something. The status quo is no longer acceptable. The demands of the 21st century fire environment require us to work together and commit to the hard work ahead of us. We believe this time is different. Supporting Tim’s Act is the opportunity to lead up. Let your elected officials know how the reforms identified in Tim’s Act will affect you personally if/when this bill becomes law. Your support makes a difference to our volunteers passionately dedicated to these reforms. Join our exciting movement; get engaged and stay informed.  https://www.grassrootswildlandfirefighters.com/get-involved. 

Nothing about us without us.  

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7 thoughts on “Who should receive credit for the wildland firefighter provisions in the recently passed infrastructure legislation?”

  1. A quote attributed to Harry Truman seems appropriate here:

    “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

  2. I love the effort, but it’s still not inclusive to the entire community. Not once has their been language including those in “secondary” fire positions, such as dispatch and fuels, not to mention those in non related fire positions at all that still maintain quals and do fight fire all summer. What is the incentive to continue? And who’s budget is going to take the hit to pay for this? In my opinion for this to really be taken seriously, there needs to be much more attention paid to the finer details. As federal employees we already understand budget issues, so it’s great to list out all of these provisions, but all most of us can think about, is who’s going to pay for it?

    1. The Infrastructure Bill includes $600MM for pay raises. While the agencies will determine who beyond suppression resources will get it, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters are advocating that all support positions, including dispatch, fuels, prevention, managers, will go into the new classification series and be included in permanent pay raises.

  3. Who should get credit for a touchdown — the running back that dove into the end zone from the 1 yard line, or the rest of the offense that moved the ball the length of the field?

    In reality, this bill is only receiving the kickoff on the 20 yard line. There is still a long way to go for a score.
    As the FS testimony at the Congressional hearings said, without a corresponding increase in budget there will be a lot fewer firefighters next year.
    Passing legislation is easy. Making the hard decisions to implement the legislation and make it work is another matter.

    1. There is approximately 600 million dollars allocated for additional salary for DOI and USDA Fire Staff over the next five years in the infrastructure bill. FAQ about the bill can be found here.
      Seems to be updated as more information becomes available:

      And if we’re just talking straight stats, it’s the QB and the receiver who get credit for the touchdown. Too literal?

  4. I believe Kelly Martin has done an excellent job defining where the credit belongs, is it possible to acknowledge the https://www.fwfsa.org/ for there efforts for these past 25-30 years, they were and have been fighting for some of the very things that are included with this legislation.
    I recall back in the early 90’s when we formed the FWFSA that we would certainly see real change, it never happened during my time in the USFS/NPS….(Now Retired) I take that back, there were real changes, Shot Supts went from GS-7 to GS-8 and then GS 9’s, every thing moved up, Engine captains GS-8, Forman/Captain from GS-6 to 8, Rank and File saw a 25% pay increase, I doubt the association had anything to do with that, I may be off concerning the percentage, Sorry. This started in So Cal and then spread to other geo areas….not 100%. This was done to help with retention.
    I would like to see everyone in fire get a real raise regardless of where they work….And I believe they will….One of the benefits of the new Bill is to improve morale not sink it Deeper…..Pay all of them more……Are there going to be real issues implementing these changes, yes indeed there will certainly be real challenges going forward, they are up to the task to get this done…..They better be…..they need to start right now…….Peace…..

  5. Thank you Bill for providing us a platform for discussion. Your reporting is very helpful to the many thousands of federal wildland firefighters and agency officials who have longed for this transformation. As most people know, there are thousands of special interested groups in DC advocating for various federal worker reforms. Grassroots Wildland Firefighters are just one of many advocating for federal wildland firefighting modernization and long-overdue reforms. We feel very fortunate that many federal wildland firefighters we have talked to have expressed deep interest in how they can advocate on behalf of themselves, tell their stories, and be able to reach out to their own elected officials in their home state to express support for these legislative efforts. Many bills that have been submitted in the past have a history of ‘hit’ and a ‘miss’ which is not unusual in DC. Legislative bills might get ‘dropped’ but miss hearings and votes. With many boots of volunteers behind us, we are hopeful this time is different as we swing for the fence for a substantial ‘hit’. We are here for the long game.
    I am personally very grateful to all of you who are actively engaged, staying positive, and hopeful with us on these major federal wildland firefighter reforms.
    Kelly Martin
    President, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters


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