Firefighters need a raise in pay

Federal firefighters have for years put up with both low pay — starting at just $15 an hour for entry-level positions — and a high-pressure job that takes a heavy toll mentally and keeps them away from their homes and families. Hundreds of them have left federal service, and hundreds more will likely leave next month if a permanent federal pay increase is not approved by Congress.

This fall, as reported by The Guardian, pay issues are coming to a head. A temporary pay increase, effected as part of Biden’s 2021 infrastructure bill, will expire at the end of September. Without that pay increase, the U.S. risks  a crisis of firefighter burnout and falling retention while fires increasingly burn larger, hotter, and for longer than they have in decades.

Lone Peak Hotshots, Cerro Pelado Fire, northern New Mexico. 2022 inciweb photo.
Lone Peak Hotshots, Cerro Pelado Fire, northern New Mexico. 2022 inciweb photo.

Congress has two weeks to enact a long-term fix. If they fail, federal land management agencies may be left to navigate another mass exodus from the essential workforce just as autumn winds increase risks across the West.

As the Federal News Network recently reported, wildland firefighters are meeting with congressional leaders this week to add urgency to pending legislation that would install a permanent pay raise. The $600 million that funded the two-year pay boost runs out at the end of September.

Back in July, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters launched a petition to tell Congress what’s at stake if they don’t enact a permanent pay solution. In just a week, more than 11,000 wildland firefighters and others signed their names and described what will happen if Congress fails to act. A sample of signers’ responses:

    • “30-50% of the firefighting force will leave unless signed, including myself. I have bills to pay, I love this job but unless things change, I can’t afford to do it.”
    •  “I worry that with this pay cut we will lose our hard-working wildland firefighters, and the land that so many of us love and recreate in will be unprotected and destroyed.”
    •  “One third of the permanent fire employees I know will have to leave the wildland fire profession to pay their mortgage.”
    •  “As a fire family, this would hit us hard. These men and women who battle fires daily to prevent homes from being burned deserve the most.”
    •  “Thousands of firefighters walking off the job. Many of us are planning for what happens if they do nothing.”
    •  “15 years of firefighting and my nephew makes more working at Panda Express. It’s time to recognize our firefighters for what they do and the sacrifice they have put forth to protect public lands.”

“Firefighters don’t want accolades, they don’t need to be called heroes,” says Riva Duncan, a retired USFS fire officer and vice-president of the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters advocacy group. “But they want to at least be treated like they are appreciated for the risks they take and the sacrifices they make.”

ZigZag Hotshots crewmember sharpens chainsaw on Moose Fire, July 24, 2022 by Mike McMillan-USFS
ZigZag Hotshots crewmember sharpens chainsaw on Moose Fire, July 24, 2022 by Mike McMillan-USFS

Biden’s temporary pay bump — which added either $20,000 or a 50 percent increase to firefighter paychecks, whichever was less — was intended as a short-term fix to buy Congress time to pass a permanent solution to the problems that have for years left federal firefighters underpaid and overworked.

The National Federation of Federal Employees, the union that represents many wildland firefighters, said without a permanent solution, there will be a “mass exodus” of firefighters, which would only exacerbate retention challenges that are already increasingly difficult for the four  Department of the Interior agencies and the Forest Service; all five agencies employ roughly 17,000 wildland firefighters combined.

That story in the Guardian, by Gabrielle Canon, is WELL WORTH the read — and thanks to Nancy for the tip.

Without the passage of new legislation, federal firefighters will see major reductions to their paychecks starting October 1. Some workers’ pay will be cut back to $15 per hour. … California lawmakers, by the way, just passed a bill that would make $20 an hour the minimum pay for fast-food workers in the state. You can sign the Grassroots petition to Congress [HERE].

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

13 thoughts on “Firefighters need a raise in pay”

  1. Not to be a naysayer, and I appreciate all the work that has gone into this, but the truth of the matter is even if the bill pass’s, there is still going to be an exodus, it will likely be less of an exodus than if the bill doesn’t pass. It’s been such a big fight to get to this point, and it’s too small of a pay bump. By the time it gets enacted, Cal-Fires wages are going to go up my more, they are looking at a substantial bump as well, and all the contractors wages are going up to. Municipal fire is taking more leadership roles on federal fires at five times the cost to government . If they could have just figured out a way of adding the $20,000 into our regular salaries it would have saved the bean counters from doing a bunch of complicated math.. There should be something written into the legislation that annual pay increases at-least keep up with inflation, every time CA increases their minimum wage everything else goes up except for federal worker pay.

  2. These firefighter’s who put their lives on the line almost every day fighting fires, deserve a lot more pay and respect than any burger flipper.

  3. I was just out as an Equipment Time Recorder. I was trying hard to recruit firefighters off of contract crews and engines and they were literally laughing at me. Then one of the larger contracting companies tried to recruit me to do their finances and very disappointingly I had to decline the offer. This job gave me cancer and even though I can’t afford to stay here, I can’t afford to lose my health insurance now. Hopefully that offer still stands once I get 25 in at 47.

  4. This job takes it all.
    Physical health: cancer, lung disease, any joint u can think, suicide etc.
    Mental health: depression( firefighters and their family members) anxiety, divorce, absent parenting etc.

    What it provides in return?
    When livable or commensurate pay is gone, the pro vs cons list gets extremely unbalanced.

  5. Career Fed Firefighter here and I can tell you that the view outside of fire within the agencies is that we are an annoyance, a financial burden, and a PR nightmare…especially in recent years as firefighters have started to find a voice.

    Congress see us as bargaining chips and cannon fodder. Agency administrators and leadership see us as a burden. The public generally assumes we are doing well as “lazy public servants” until a fire is on the news or in their backyard. Our own line officers and leadership teams rarely approach us with any respect for the work, skill, and sacrifice these jobs require but they’re quick to use our imagery or labor to support their own image and career advancement.

    The only people that really care about fed firefighters continue to be our own ranks, our friends and our families. You think agency leadership or congressional reps are putting hundreds if not thousands of dollars from their pockets to support a go fund me for an on the job injury or cancer diagnosis.

    Logically, I’m not sure any of us should be here anymore…but I fell in love with this career and deeply care for the people that work for me and to our I’ve come up with. I hope there is a long term fix, and ultimately one that is better than the WFPPA.

    We’re already deep within a crisis, from personnel shortages to fleet to housing. This will make it worse, but I fear either many more people will have to die, be injured, or quit before true transformative action occurs.

  6. Having to sign a petition to get more money is ridiculous. Why do we have to fight so hard to get this? Bart, you really brought up some good points. Recently I have battled with FS management for better pay, housing etc. Forest supervisors and the entire HR system is broken. Having HR in NM is convenient for the government not the employees. The district I worked for has condemned buildings and the water system is not potable. The whole district is moving, very inconvenient for employees. I’m not signing anything.

  7. “Having to sign a petition to get more money is ridiculous.”

    How about having to use GoFundMe to pay a firefighter’s medical expenses??

  8. It’s lining up that the pay stipend goes away because of the impending government shutdown. There will then be the ask for federal firefighters to work through the shutdown without getting paid because we’re essential. Goodbye dedicated workforce, hope our state/ local partners and private industry treat you better.

  9. Sorry to inform you, but Congress and your Enviromental extremists don’t want fires put out in our national forests and wildernesses.
    They have been working toward a natural forest for 50 years since they started hire ing those Berkeley geniuses who want to manage our national forests with fire like the Indians did 500 years ago and they don’t care if they turn into mega fires that burn up our private forests, homes and cities.
    Why do you think they ripped out all the logging roads 30 years ago. They don’t want any trees cut. They want to store carbon to save the universe from climate change which they helped create by allowing our forests to burn and not replant they.they want natural regeneration.
    They know that most people don’t know what carbon sequestration is and that those dead trees that are storing carbon are no longer sequestering carbon. Or that those naturally regenerating forests will take 20 to 50 years to grow back enough to be sequestering carbon at the rate they were before they burned.
    That way they can continue their agenda making billions with the solar and wind stocks they have been buying to shut down the fossil fuel industry.
    And for your information—wind turbines and solar panels don’t sequester carbon either. But that’s what these insider trader families in congress want. Money, money, money.

What do you think?