Congress temporarily averted a wildland firefighter pay cliff when it narrowly stopped a government shutdown at the end of September. As that stop-gap nears its expiration on November 17, senators are making new pushes to increase wildland firefighter pay.
Nevada Senators Jacky Rosen and Cortez Masto introduced the “Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act,” which would permanently raise firefighter pay caps. The legislation, if passed, would also expand eligible employment to NWS meteorologists deployed with firefighters and would require a report from the USDA and DOI and NWS on necessary staffing levels of wildland firefighters and meteorologists.
The senators had previously written a letter to legislators urging them to include a permanent salary increase for wildland firefighters in the government funding bill.
“Nevada’s wildland firefighters are heroes who keep our communities safe,” Rosen said. “We must provide them with the pay they deserve, and I’m glad to help introduce this bipartisan legislation to permanently increase their overtime pay caps.”
The bill isn’t the only piece of legislation trying to improve conditions for wildland firefighters. The Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act (WFPPA) would authorize premium pay for federal firefighters portal-to-portal whenever they respond to an incident. The act was introduced to Congress before the shutdown was temporarily averted, but was never voted on.
There were 11,187 wildland firefighters (of GS-9 and below) employed through the USFS as of July 25, the according to the agency website. Funding proposed for the next fiscal year would reportedly support the hiring of 970 more firefighter positions, but Congress has yet to make that budget a reality.
If neither bill is approved by November 17, when the government shutdown stopgap is set to expire, wildland firefighter pay will be reduced by either 50 percent of current salary or by $20,000 annually, whichever is lower. It’s expected that the reduction could lead to a third of wildland firefighters walking off the job, according to the employee union and others.