Federal wildland firefighters to receive pay increase July 3, 2022

It will be temporary, until appropriated funds run out. New Wildland Firefighter job series created.

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10 a.m. MDT June 21, 2022

Dixie Fire at Greenville, CA, 2021
Firefighter on the Dixie Fire at Greenville, CA, 2021. Photo by Jay Walter.

A statement issued by the White House today addressed changes in federal wildland firefighter pay that were required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) passed by Congress last year. A temporary pay increase of $20,000 a year, or 50 percent of their base salary, whichever is less, was supposed to be implemented on October 1, 2021.

Firefighters will begin receiving the additional salaries July 3, 2022, with the retroactive pay due since October 1, 2021 to follow.

An unfortunately-worded section of the legislation said the temporary pay increase would only apply in locations where it is difficult to recruit or retain fire personnel. A Frequently Asked Questions document released today by the USDA, DOI, and OPM said it has been determined that it is difficult to recruit or retain wildland firefighters in every geographic area.

The FAQ document says Forest Service employees will begin receiving a series of three retroactive payments (due since October 1) within the next three pay periods. The supplemental salary increase ($20,000 a year, or 50 percent of their base salary) will begin July 3 (pay period 14).

Department of the Interior firefighters will receive the retroactive payments in the July 12 paycheck, with the supplemental salary increase beginning July 3 (pay period 15).

The hourly supplement will be used when computing overtime pay rates but will not count toward the high-3 average salary used to compute lifetime retirement annuities.

More details about the payments are in the FAQ document.

The Administration says they are “committed to finding a long-term solution to develop the more permanent, well-supported firefighting workforce needed to address the growing wildfire threat before the temporary salary supplements provided by BIL are exhausted.”

“New” job series

The legislation also required that a new job series be created for wildland firefighters, to replace the Forestry Technician or Range Technician series currently used. The statement says OPM released on June 21, 2022 the “new GS-0456, Wildland Firefighter series”. This series number previously existed 50 years ago, titled Fire Control Aids. Agencies will implement the series “in the coming months”. Modifications were made to the old series to reflect the changing nature of the fire season and the work. Changes included series definition, titling, knowledge required to perform wildland firefighting work, occupational information, and illustrations of work performed by wildland firefighters.

Current Federal firefighters will be able to choose whether to opt-in to the series or stay in their current occupations. The Administration said, “Creation of the new series will provide a clear career path for wildland firefighters with defined requirements for advancement. This will also facilitate mobility between wildland firefighter jobs… The new series does not make any changes to retirement.”

Other than “finding a long-term solution” there was no specific mention in the documents of a new permanent pay scale for firefighters in light of the new job series. But it is possible to modify grades within the series.

“Grades will change specifically as a result of the new position classification standard,” the FAQ document states. “The overall grading structure for the position classification standard includes grades 2 through 15. OPM, Interior, and Agriculture verified through the classification process that this grading structure is adequate. Agencies have the delegated authority to determine the work and grades supportable for their positions. Accordingly, the Departments will now apply the standard to evaluate specific positions within the occupational series.”

The Wildland Fire Management Series is aligned with OPM’s recently issued skills-based hiring guidance.

“While education institutions may offer associated college level degrees for this work,” according to the FAQ document, “the existence of degree availability and course content is not required for the performance of the work in the 0456 Wildland Fire Management series. In accordance with 5 U.S.C. 3308, OPM and Federal agencies are prohibited from prescribing education when the work can be performed without it. While training for this occupation is needed, the best training is on-the-job training. This correlates to qualification requirements and degree availability for the 0081, Firefighting occupation.”

Physical and mental health

Still another requirement in the legislation required the five agencies that employ wildland firefighters to increase their focus on wildland firefighters’ physical and mental wellbeing.

From today’s White House announcement:

The newly established joint DOI- U.S. Forest Service program will address mental health needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder care for permanent, temporary, seasonal and year-round wildland firefighters at both agencies, along with addressing environmental hazards to minimize on-the-job exposure for wildland firefighters. The joint program will also connect existing efforts and establish year-round prevention and mental health training for wildland firefighters and create critical incident stress management staffing response.  The Forest Service along with each of DOI’s wildland fire management bureaus — the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service — will also add staffing capacity specifically to focus on mental health and employee support efforts for firefighters.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.

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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.

79 thoughts on “Federal wildland firefighters to receive pay increase July 3, 2022”

  1. Thanks to the Grassroots organization

    Little public pressure from the media, eh?

    Fake news, eh? When I put up my right hand BITD to service the Army’s finest rotary machines, this was part of that contract.

    Remember, it took some grass roots to get the USFS off center

    Now the the crying of the budgets will begin

  2. The Overtime Rate increase was the biggest surprise to me. It sounds like the agencies were forced to do this. Initially they sought a supplement to avoid increases in OT and H Pay, but FSLA law looks at total remuneration, thus forcing the increased OT rate.

    Big win here for Wildland Firefighters!

    Updating things as they come in on our website, http://www.grassrootswildlandfirefighters.com and thanks to everyone who helped with this.

  3. Albuquerque Service Center, and DOI Admin Officers, will love calculating past overtime and hazard, and deducting what was already paid…

  4. Seems “muddy as usual”. I suggest everyone really sit down and calculate the pay you should get and confirm it with pay stubs. It’s not so easy with the different retroactive payments, OT calculations, monetary award, retention incentives and how retention incentives can only be processed in whole numbers causing another periodic payment to include the rest. Seems like things can get screwed up so take it upon yourself to insure it’s accurate.

  5. Don’t worry, he’ll be here soon with seven paragraphs and plenty of 5-dot ellipses.

  6. Probably crying into their coffee and feeling angry that anyone might have something better than they did.

  7. I agree that things can get messed up, but I also believe the situation calls for celebration and a glass more than half full approach!
    We need to be ever so grateful to all within the Wildfire Today group and also the members specifically who took this on to make it happen!
    Having worked with Senator Wydens office, I know the commitment is there until this is done permanently after 2023.
    Looking forward to the next two years when it’s all completed!
    In the meantime all of us who are retired Agency folks are incredibly happy for you!

  8. Does anyone know if you need to file corrected time sheets if you are coded “exempt”? I am a GS7 supervisor, and I’ve been “exempt” for awhile now.

    According to the S-260, all o/t on a fire is eligible for “non-exempt” status, but as far as I know, at least for the FS in paycheck 8, ypu have to go in and change your status to “non-exempt” for a given pay period. This was of course something I had absolutely no idea mattered or existed until today.

    Wondering if that memo got out or if anyone has any more info? If so, it would be something really important to share. It seems like a mix of supervisors that are even aware of it. Myself being one who was not.

  9. You can almost make a guaranteed bet that they’ll screw it up. Just look at all the SNAFUs during any shutdown and the back pay for that, the OASDI debacle, or anytime somebody had a time sheet that was corrected.

    My advice, if you can, hold onto that extra pay for awhile because the bean counters are gonna give ya too many beans and ask for it back in December within 30days or your debt will start to accrue interest. If ya can’t, hope and pray they got it right. If you can track the math and all the legalism make sure they pay you correctly and jump on it right away if they don’t, either over or underpaid, it gets out of hand quick.

    They could’ve saved everybody the headache and just raised pay $9 bucks an hour for all.

  10. Positive change is actually possible…

    I am still here and so very happy to see this finally coming into reality, I never contested the idea of the pay raise, of course you all deserve this very much, yes I took issue with entry level pay, big deal, my opinion really does not matter even a little, it’s all going to work out just fine…..Now go to work…..lol……Peace…..

    You still have a ways to go, do not take your eyes off the prize….you all have received what we tried to accomplish since the early 90’s…..congrats……recruitment and retention should no longer be an issue…….

  11. Yes agreed it is a big win…. But as the article said… it “won’t count toward high 3 retirement” that answers my question I will be exiting within the next year or so…. And I bet others will as well… OPM and the powers to be all don’t care about us an never will!

  12. Congrats to Primary and Secondary folks. On behalf of the rest of my milita bros, hope you can do it without us. Deuces.

  13. I’m retired (FS) with 36 years
    In combined Fire/LE career.
    I left Fire because of all the reasons good Fire personnel are now flocking to other agencies.
    In the FS Law Enforcement much of our overtime could not be planned, it was a spontaneous need. We instead received AUO (Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime. Google Federal LE AUO for an explanation.
    My point is this….When we retired our earned AUO percentages was figured into our high three retirement amount. My question is, why the he’ll would Fire Personnel be treated any differently?

  14. We will find a way, we always do! Just remember though the door swings both ways. At least on my district the amount of work done by fire for other functions is enourmous….. maybe not that way everywhere, but is here. And now maybe you should look into what you can do to get better pay for yourself and your co-workers in your function! Sorry it didn’t benefit you and I can understand the sentiment. But nothing will change without trying. At least it shows so far things can be done

  15. Key word (Temporary) don’t hold your breather permanent funding may never come.Nothing but the best for wildland firefighters.

  16. Where is the OT increase mentioned or is this just for Nonexempt employees?

  17. Let’s not continue with the negative comments. It may go away. It may not. Be happy for what you got. $20k is massive. It is not a fix all but it will help with retention and I personally know a few people who recently quit that will be begging for their jobs back because they were so negative and never thought this would come. Give the FS a shot at making the new series count. This bill was always about those who fight fire on the front lines, not those who are militia so I am not sure why people are shocked or disappointed. Thanks to Grassroots and all involved who worked making this happen.

  18. I am happy to hear the fire fighters’ pay will be increased : $ 20,000 per year + original salary ( until appropriated funds run out ?) – temporarily : TEMPORARILY ? will you please look at the Big Picture = Climate Change : the fact, for instance, the hermits peak calf canyon fire is still not be extinguished, regardless of monsoons, because the vast area it is now burning is composed of mases of dead trees under which embers, like those of the calf head fire Prescribed unquenched burn smoldering cause, can erupt. Fire fighters always have been – but now are even more – our most essential national heros and heroines ! Huge fires are not going to go away. Please estimate – if you can – what loosing Everything would mean to you – then multiply that sum, according to your estimate – and make a contribution to the firefighters !

  19. Because that’s been the law for everyone, for so long… When AUO was thought up, get get unions and employees to sign off on the loss of pay, the deal was that it would at least count to retirement. It was also considered a premium pay, as it is based on past performance (this years $$ is based on last year’s AUO hours worked).

  20. That’s what I thought Bill, just thought I missed something!

  21. Maybe we recruit using stories from the past of what the job entails – everything from burning out to mopping up. Videos and stories that paint the picture of what this was and now is. We ought to be using social media to do this. If people just show the cool stuff all the time we misrepresent the truth – it’s dirty and hard and hot spot cold trailing, mopping up and holding is long tedious work but especially when it’s very hot.
    I’d like to see more influence from folks who’ve done this a while (who aren’t bitter) and can paint an accurate picture for interested parties. I do not want people who have a false idea of what this is on the engine or crew or whatever..enough with the glory shots.

  22. Agreed… now go to work and do good things.
    Militia thanks for the help, if you want to work in fire then work in fire.

  23. Don’t despair, all of those positions are shown in the 60pg supplement that accompanied all the info today.

  24. Where’d you get that from? Not trying to argue, I’m just not sure where you see that.

  25. Can someone explain like I’m 5 what this means? Does it add the value of your supplement to your OT rate as long as you’re getting the supplement payments?

  26. Exempt and non exempt 7 and below are non exempt article says non exempt will be paid for OT

  27. Yes, do corrected time sheets, if you were in non-exempt position on a fire since Oct 1. The yellow book lists the positions in chapter 10. ENGB is the most common.

  28. So now all Supervisor positions that are considered exempt will have a lowerly OT rate than there subordinate that is non-exempt. That will go over really well. We can’t fill Supervisor positions because if you promote you will actually make less? Hopefully there is more explanation to this.

  29. I’ll keep doing it. No issues. I am happy Fire Folks are getting something. As militia we can tap in and out and make choices for ourselves.

    Would I like my GS-5 employee to get a supplement when they work fire suppression, absolutely. As a GS Fantastic, I am good.

  30. I just want to say thank you to the folks that made this happen from behind the scenes…. Your efforts are much appreciated!
    Come July 3rd, I’ll feel like a young ‘Shot in Dirty August with more money than I know what to do with! Vegas trip anyone?

  31. Agreed engine slug… I’ll be taking my KSA’s, institutional knowledge, proven leadership, and 24 years of service and hopefully getting a job mowing lawns… best of luck all! This is great for the future FFs, but the damage mentally and physically has been done… This buys me nothing… still got a crew to run

  32. At a certain level, 9 step 5 you gotta start using an 11 pre-fix in PayCheck to get true overtime and not the capped overtime in the OPM’s salary tables.

  33. Yep, I understand that part of true overtime and coding 11. Just confused on this exempt and nonexempt stuff. That’s a game changer if you can get a higher OT rate than the person supervising you is all I’m trying to point out. The devil is in the details.

    Time to start looking for the 13/13 non-supervisory job if that’s the case. More money and more time off! Haha. Wait will anybody be there to put me back into pay status after my winter off traveling!

    BTW…super greatful for the hard work done by all!

  34. Ya at a certain point it’s prefix 11 on the 21 and you adjust something in your pay options to 4 that says gs exceeding earning limitations. (Something like that ) I was told when I became an supervisor 8 (exempt). I believe this puts you in a non exempt status for OT since you are on an incident. Sorry I need to I go into paycheck 8 to see so I’m not sure. Unfortunately this was only told to me when I called ASC when my paycheck wasn’t what it was supposed to be after I got a gs8….maybe someone more knowledgeable can explain it better. I’m just an unskilled laborer.

  35. Yeah, so here is the language from the Interagency Business Management Handbook: “In an emergency, the exemption status of an exempt employee is determined on a work week basis. An exempt employee shall be nonexempt for any weekly tour of duty in which the employee’s primary duties for the period of emergency work are nonexempt (5 CFR 551.211 (f) (2) (ii)). For purposes of 39 this CFR, primary duties typically mean, the duty that constitutes the major part (over 50 percent) of an employee’s work (5 CFR 551.104). Nonexempt employees retain their nonexempt status regardless of the emergency work performed or the incident position to which assigned.”

    Note: it says an exempt will be non-exempt for a weekly tour of duty etc….. it opens the door to getting that juicy non-exempt bump. There is a link in the same .pdf to NWCG that covers all the positions that cause the change.

    When you go into “pay options” in Paycheck 8, you can change your FLSA status for the week and you can correct and resubmit paychecks this way.

    Mainly, we need some clarity for something like a 2-day I.A. I guess? Where you weren’t getting to the 50% of the workweek mark. Hopefully, we can get an MOU or something similar over it. I doubt innthe current climate, they are going to want all the supervisors to leave because they are making less than an assistant.

  36. The pay increase, is it just federal or for private companies as well??
    Thanks DJ.

  37. I see what your saying. It still doesn’t give much incentive to be a CRWB, DIVS, TFLD, because those NWCG positions are showing as exempt, but you could go out as FOBS and be non-exempt and make more money than the DIVS? Still confused, but super greatful that we still get a supplement regardless, probably take a while before all these fine details get sorted out…

  38. Double Sack Lunch Bro,

    Hey…. So… I don’t get it entirely yet either, since my specialized training is in supression and not policy. However, I fall into the exempt boat, so I am a dedicated learner of FLSA stuff now.

    I believe those NWCG positions are actually all the ones that count as being “non-exempt” as long as you are performing them.

    TBH, I have some overtime already this year as CRWB on a fire and on a severity, so I am going to do a corrected time sheet for it and punch it through as non-exempt using the 11 prefix and see if any magic happens or I just get yelled at.

  39. I bought a used cat carrier from a retired firefighter, for $25.

    We all have to do our part ! 🙂

  40. So, Militia will once again take the shaft at PL 4 and 5 when the flood gates are opened and firefighters are needed more than ever due to staffing problems but they will not receive the benefit of being highly skilled and marketable employees? Fire is fire is fire, If your on a fire directly or supporting it from a non covered position as your primary job due to whatever reason (injury, illness, ability, ect) you should still be compensated at fire rates. Dont get me wrong the guys on the line are more than deserving of this but the guys on the line can only do so much without the people in the background making all the other stuff happen, try having an ICP without the support of all the local and national Militia help and let me know how that goes. Just gives people who are not directly fire retirement related more reason to not assist if you ask me. I can see this going very bad in the near future.

  41. It’s sad that in my DOI agency, I only got an email about this today as there was social media discussion and this article from Bill. No memos, no information, no nothing.

    Bill, thanks for being the only source of info on this for some of us.

  42. Tried that when I became exempt for a pay period when serving on fire in non exempt position. Nothing changed in my pay.

  43. I agree. If I was militia I would not assist on fire. I know I’ll probably get bashed for saying that, but this is a business. Business is business, to many people take this job personally.

  44. You mad bro?
    Not throwin shade but should have taken a primary or secondary…jus sayin

  45. I use prefix 11 every single time I use 21. Every.single.time. Have been for years!

  46. ICP’s are way overrated anyway. I’ll spike with some cubees and rats.

  47. The 11 prefix is for full OT rate on fire code. Nothing to do with FLSA.

  48. It shouldn’t change your pay but it should, according to the FAQs that came out, get you an additional retroactive FLSA overtime payment for being non exempt. (Non exempt position ) …hopefully

  49. Isn’t the reduced OT because of the FLSA exempt status? If you’re non exempt they have to pay you the full (1.5x) OT rate. If you’re exempt from FLSA they can pay a reduced rate.

  50. No FLSA is more complicated. Your true OT rate for non-exempt is figured on the additions to your base pay such as hazard pay, night differential, and think Sunday diff. Exempt it’s just 1 1/2 time normal base pay, sorry basic pay. The 11 prefix is to give you your true 1 1/2 time rate of basic pay regardless of the the OT cutoff for working(only) in wildfire suppression. Believe it’s 8 step 8 when this occurs, maybe wrong on that. When I became exempt I tried to change to non-exempt when performing certain non-exempt positions. In theory this should have changed my FLSA. It did not work. Will try again with the new language. What’s the harm.

  51. You can claim weeks as non-exempt, I literally just went in and did it and paycheck 8 shows “2 weeks non-exempt” in the FLSA status line, instead of “exempt”. You can also do a corrected as non-exempt. I was told to put 11 as well, because the “non-exempt” can be used on wf and other emergencies and put you at the o/t hourly cap otherwise. It also changes the wording in premium pay because of it.

    You can 100% choose “non-exempt”. Using the prefix 11 with it, I believe is what keeps you from hitting the cap though on fires. There is no reason not to use it for fire o/t. It spells it out in the Interagency business guide in 10.22.

    Seriously, people should read that part of the yellow book first and then post. It speaks exactly to FLSA “non-exempt” eligibility for “exempt” employees.

  52. Yes you can and that’s what I did a few years ago when I became exempt and was working in a non-exempt position on a fire. I changed my exempt status to non-exempt for two weeks while performing the specific fire role. My supervisor was like yeah try it and we’ll see what happens. Nothing changed in pay. I will definitely try again, what’s the harm. Looking at similar pay period non-exempt vs exempt was roughly $1500 difference. Yeah I read that part of yellow book and was reason for my attempt. Know exactly what you’re talking about, tried, didn’t work before. Maybe it will for this. Not telling people not to try just sharing my experience with this situation. Try it what’s the harm.

  53. The United States of America needs a National Wildland Fire Agency. Long overdue. Who will make it happen?

  54. There’s a difference between lifting the overtime cap and the language in the FAQ that was recently circulated. The FAQ clearly states that non exempt positions will have their OT impacted by the supplemental increase. Exempt positions, on the other hand, will not. At least it appears that way. In practice, a GS 8 captain will make much less in their OT rate than their GS 7 assistant or GS 6 squaddie. That’s some broken stuff.

  55. Almostretiredbro,

    Yeah…. I might be grasping at straws too, just don’t want to discourage people from trying to at least trigger the status, in case it means way better o/t. No clue how they will end up classifying it internally. Were you at the cap then?

    I was speaking more to the determination described in the FAQ about the raises. If I read it right, they sort of missed the FLSA rules until the 11th hour and are sort of sliding through without talking much about it. Basically, hoping that just showing “non-exempt” in P8 will cause the 1.5× of base pay + supplement to kick in. Otherwise, a lot of supervisors are just going to bail. I’ve never hit the cap otherwise anyway, so I never tried to do it.

  56. Yeah, that is what I was talking about. Just trying to get P8 to recognize the hours as non-exempt.

  57. Yup! So I guess go back to 10-1-21 – now. Any week you were on a fire in a non exempt position change your FLSA status to non exempt and do a corrected. Either you get an additional FLSA OT payment or you don’t. Nothing to do with prefix 11. Hopefully more guidance will come cuz there are many of us confused. Just my interpretation and thoughts. Maybe exempt employees just don’t get it . Idk!

  58. No I was not at the OT cap. FLSA and the Cap are two different beast though.

  59. Are temporary 1039 employees in secondary fire positions eligible for the pay increase? Thanks

  60. If so, we are gonna have some very overqualified FEOs, Captains, Foremans etc. next year….

  61. Yes they will get the supplement or whatever it is called. If they worked at any point as GS from Oct 21 to current. And then will get the supplement going forward as well til layoff. For instance I have some seasonals on currently that will get some of the supplement for working from end of March to current. Then once the back pay is all paid they will be getting the 766 per pay period going forward til layoff. Hope that answers your question.

  62. Sorry forgot to add an answer to the original question on secondary fire. They are primary fire but this covers all primary and secondary fire positions.

  63. Ideally the pay should apply while you are working fire then, not the other 10 months doing timber, rec, weeds, etc., etc.

  64. This is way overdue and more than about time. My son has been a wildland firefighter for nearly twenty years, treated like dirt, NO student loan forgiveness, and PTSD. I quit the NPS almost forty years ago partially because of this type of attitudinal crap toward its employees and I loved being an NPS ranger. Still one can only put up with so much. I hope that it is just the beginning and will lead to long lasting change. It may only be a start, but a welcome one.

  65. If I’m reading it right it says FLSA overtime for non-exempt, not premium ot. If you go back and look at your E/L statements in EPP when you were a non-exempt employee there should be a line that says FLSA right below your Premium overtime. The FLSA comes out to roughly $2 an hour. So with the retroactive payment you might get something like an extra dollar an our for your overtime worked.

  66. I don’t know what the militia does outside of R5. But here, they are over paid GS-9’s or 11 RADO’s or SCKN’s who have weekends and holidays off. They may come to a fire or two a year to pick up some OT if they want to fund a fancy vacation. But I can tell you they aren’t around when there is line to dig, hose to put in, prescribed fire or project work to do because they are clicking buttons in front of their computer in their own home.

  67. “Welp, this one’s going yard boys… if only we woulda had that thrown together group of Ologists and Trails folks with their McLeods and bright blue FSS packs…” Said no one ever.

  68. Militia folks are the type of people that list their pronouns in their email signature.

  69. Got ahead of myself here. It was a $1500 difference between one year exempt vs non exempt with similar HZ and OT. My bad.

  70. Yep. Bet you see a lot more militia’ed folks too now because it will stretch the budget. Time for temps across the board to start demanding the same pay raise. No shade to my FF colleagues, the prescribed burns and treatments are some of the most important and worthwhile work taking place on the forest, but you can’t tell me a wilderness trail crew’s sweat isn’t worth the exact same 9.88/hr raise when they’re cutting line. Or even when they’re just cut and running across the backcountry.

  71. Supplement or not, militia can still support fire and get an overtime paycheck. You’re saying those people are going to stop doing that out of spite because they didn’t get a pay supplement? I highly doubt that.

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