State firefighters in Montana receive pay increase

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Seasonal entry-level firefighters now making more than $15 an hour

Corral fire
Corral fire, a few miles northwest of the state Capitol building in Helena, Montana June 25, 2012. KXLH photo.

Wildland firefighters working for the state of Montana have received a pay increase. The state announced today that seasonal firefighters in Montana will get an additional $1.70 per hour, bringing the minimum base pay to $15.50 per hour.

“Montana’s wildland firefighters are some of the most important and necessary personnel serving our state, especially with recent, more severe fire seasons,” Governor Greg Gianforte said. “This well-deserved pay increase will help ensure our wildland firefighters remain the most skilled and mission capable firefighting workforce in the region.”

Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Amanda Kaster said, “It is more important than ever that we modernize our firefighting workforce to effectively address the challenges we face during these unprecedented fire seasons.”

Montana’s job listing website today shows seasonal firefighters at Anaconda will be paid $15.50 to $16.19 an hour, while engine bosses at the same location will earn $16.85 to $18.47 an hour. Both job announcements have a disclaimer that the actual pay may be less than advertised: “This agency may use a training assignment. Employees in training assignments may be paid below the base pay established by the agency pay rules.”

It may not be a coincidence that this pay raise came after Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure legislation in November authorizing pay increases for federal wildland firefighters of $20,000 a year, or an amount equal to 50 percent of the base salary — the lesser of the two.

In a quote often attributed to President John F. Kennedy, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” However, it can take some time for the ripples to reach every vessel and the height reached may not be equal. For example, CAL FIRE vs. federal firefighters.

These pay increases, while long overdue, are deserved and welcomed by firefighters who work in one of the toughest and dangerous professions.

Compensation of federal firefighters

The next step to benefit federal firefighters is for Congress to pass H.R. 4274 Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, and H.R. 5631 Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act. Or, some combination of the two. Brief descriptions of the bills are in the article we published October 26. The bills have been introduced, referred to five committees, and one hearing was held by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.

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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.

11 thoughts on “State firefighters in Montana receive pay increase”

  1. We (fed) don’t care about keeping folks. We have a major retention problem with the 5 thru 15 year folks. Lots of our training has made the surrounding FD better. The neighboring FD have noticed our pay scale, our expectations ( on call, drug test, work ethic, skill set, task book system) and have hand picked who fits their program. Rookie city FD starts at 50000 and we take years to get there without year round work.

    My base salary after 22 is now 62000 (gs09). The bat chief for the local city makes 90000 with no overtime.

    Which one are you going to choose if you want to have a family and a good retirement?

    Paid in sunsets I guess!

    1. Bob you are not the only one with a retention problem. My brother is a firefighter paramedic at a small paid FD. They run 3 shifts with 15 folks per shift. They are currently down 9 people with zero applications. Another turned in his 2 weeks last friday. The city recently upped their pay, and also paid out retention bonuses. They have lost people recently to rock quarries, pet food plants, and of course other agencies. To try and increase applicantions they will also hire folks that dont want to do fire and just want to be paramedics. Its a competitive job market out there and some employers seem to be slow in carching on.

    2. Bob, I agree with you that there is a retention problem. I think there are a lot of different reason that the NPS, FS, and BLM can’t retain people. 1) Salaries are not keeping pace with other jobs. 2) There are pay disparities between race and sex. I’ve done a lot of research on this issue and I think this example sums it up best. In 2018, a white man, a white woman, a black man, and a black woman were all doing the same job at the FS. The white man was a GS-12, the white woman was a GS-9, the black man was a GS-9, and the black woman was a GS-7. Yes, I know this was a very simple example, but I looked at larger samples and I kept seeing this wage inequally occurring along race and sex. (Ironically, openly gay women made the same as white men; whereas, there were no openly gay men (in the study).) Long story short, I think pay equally should be looked into if the FS wants to keep people. 3) Moral is another big issue. Basically, people are being treated like s…. They are being used and then thrown away. That’s not acceptable and it’s not sustainable…and don’t get me started on incidents of harassment, assault, and rape. 4) Job security is another issue. When I worked for the state, we were at-will (meaning you can be fired for any reason, at any time) and I was told that things were much better working for the feds, because they were not at-will, but during the last administration feds were classified at-will under an EO. That EO has since been reversed, but I think that making people at-will (even for a short time) caused a lot of damage. 5) Work-Life Balance. One word…HAHAHAHAHA!!! I remember going to Orientation and listening to presenters talking about work-life balance. It was a joke! Because the honest truth is…some people at the FS get a work-life balance. Your boss who takes off early to go to his son’s baseball or football game, but throws a week’s worth of work on your desk before he leaves and wants it done by the next morning or the pet of the Regional or Deputy Forester not even showing up for work. How can you have work-life balance when you are on fires 6 months out of the year? Work-Life Balance HA! Some people were allowed to have children while the others couldn’t because they could afford them or when they told people they were pregnant they were fired. I had a friend commit suicide, when he found out his wife was pregnant, because he figured there was no way the child was his, because he had been on fire assignments when she conceived. So, how does the fire community fix this? 1) higher wages for all, 2) stop hiring temps and only hire perms, 3) fix wage inequallity/disparities, 4) hire more women, and 5) encourage work-life balance for all, not just for the pets. Oh, and get rid of the HART program, it’s @#$%!!!

  2. There seems to be a disconnect here. Has anyone gone on USAJobs lately? There’s Forestry Technicians (Wildland Firefighters) positions posted on USAJobs which start at GS-04’s ($31,520 – $40,974/yr or $15.15 – $19.70/hr). So, I’m not sure why Montana is proud to pay their firefighters the bare minimum. With that said, I’m not sure why the NPS/FS/BLM pay their firefighters the bare minimum either. Like I’ve said before you can work at Domino’s for much more. Oh, and you don’t have to take a 3.5 hr personality test at Domino’s. (Thanks NPS for wasting my time!!!) I still don’t think requiring potential employees to take a personality test is legal. There just seems to be a disconnect, like why do you need a PhD to do GS-09 work or why post a position as public if you require courses that you can only get while employed at the NPS/FS/BLM or why post a position as public if you’re planning on hiring a vet or why post a position as public if you’re planning on hiring someone local? I think there should be an investigation on how the NPS, FS, and BLM posts positions on USAJobs and hires people. Seems like there’s something hinky going on here!!!

  3. SR

    “USAJobs which start at GS-04’s ($31,520 – $40,974/yr or $15.15 – $19.70/hr). ” The seasonal firefighters (Forestry Techs) work 6 months, some less.

    We hired our 1st 26/0 GS 8 engine captain 2 months ago. Our program does not have ANY 26/0 PFT GS-04/05/06/07 positions. We are expecting/hoping our seasonal work force will love/leave blinders on and come back every seasonal year/wait and pray for a career seasonal job just to get benefits. Tough to build a program that does not return and you are ALWAYS training new. Sad to hear others Depts are fighting the same battle.

  4. No one takes care of the people that take care of us night and day. Wildland Firefighters are way under paid for what they do.

  5. There are lots of commenters critical of this pay raise, but I think it’s important to look at one’s frame of reference. First, these are “entry level seasonal” jobs: not a career and not intended to be ; it’s a starting point. Also, I wonder how many folks really know about the cost of living in much of Montana. Sure, housing prices are out of control in Missoula, Bozeman and Whitefish, but go out East to towns like Havre. Miles City, Wolf Point and others where DNRC has crews and you’ll find reasonable housing and the average “entry level seasonal” job pays a lots less than $15.75.
    I agree that folks in high cost-of-living areas with year round wildfire seasons need better pay. but Montana. like many of the Rocky Mountain States, has a much shorter fire season and no need for everyone to be on year round.
    Lastly, there’s the budget reality of funding in a State with just over 1 million folks, no sales tax, and lots of competing demands for State-provided services like highways, schools and numerous others. Also. unlike the Feds, our State Constitution mandates a balanced budget. I’m on the Board of Trustees for our local Rural department, and so live with the “wants” versus “needs” in our taxpayer funded District.
    If I were “King for a Day” things would be different, but they aren’t and that’s the reality of life in Montana.

    1. The article also stated that Engine Bosses will get paid $16.85 to $18.47 an hour. That’s not an entry level position and that pay is criminal.

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