Nearing a congressional deadline, one bill is making its way through the nation’s legislature attempting to stop a tens-of-thousands of dollars’ reduction to wildland firefighter pay.
A previously enacted federal wildland firefighter pay increase is set to expire on October 1, an increase that would subsequently reduce firefighter pay by either 50 percent of their current salary or by $20,000, whichever was lower. This federal pay increase was first granted in August 2021 as part of the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, but the raise itself was only a temporary measure.
Without prompt action from Congress, federal firefighters are facing five-figure pay cuts next month.
A piece of legislation that has been introduced to Congress, the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act (WFPPA), would stop the decrease from taking effect by permanently increasing wildland firefighter pay. This Act would authorize premium pay for federal firefighters portal-to-portal whenever they respond to a wildfire, prescribed burn, severity incident, or an incident that the Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of the Interior determines is similar in nature. Premium pay would not be paid to wildland firefighters during an initial response or initial attack fire if the wildfire is contained within 36 hours. If passed, the pay scale and premium pay regulation would take effect on October 1, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The USFS employee union has warned that Cal Fire and other non-fed firefighter employers are anticipating that a third of federal firefighters could likely walk because they’re fed up with their paycheck uncertainty.
A similar bill was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in October 2021, but it never got past its introduction.
The Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, named after a smokejumper who died while parachuting into the Eicks Fire in New Mexico earlier that year, would establish a pay scale that would increase yearly and institute hazard pay for wildland firefighters.
But the WFPPA, along with numerous other bills, is threatened by yet another pending government shutdown — if lawmakers can’t also allocate funding to the other 437 government agencies for this fiscal year.
In the event of a shutdown, thousands of federal workers would be furloughed without pay.
There were 11,187 wildland firefighters (GS-9 and below) employed through the USFS as of July 25, the agency says on its website. Funding proposed for the next fiscal year would reportedly support the hiring of 970 more firefighter positions, but Congress has to make that budget a reality.
“We struggle to hire and retain firefighters in areas of the country where the labor pool is low and pay isn’t as competitive as we would like,” they said. “Our goal is for firefighters to have a sustainable, long-term career that rewards them for the unique and hazardous work they do.”
The USFS is hoping to hire around 150 new firefighters in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska area. Interested in applying? Click here to see the positions’ full details.