April 29, 2022

Neguse Calls for Comprehensive Wildfire Funding and Pay Raise for Federal Firefighters

The funding request calls for a language inclusion to increase firefighter pay and benefits to reflect the qualifications of our federal wildland firefighters and hazards and risks they face.

Washington D.C.— Today, Congressman Joe Neguse led a letter to House Appropriations Committee leadership urging them to raise federal wildland firefighter pay and ensure essential benefits to these highly skilled workers.

As the impacts of climate change worsen, wildfire seasons are becoming increasingly more devastating. As these wildfires grow larger and last longer, federal firefighters answer the call of duty, often leaving behind their lives and families for months at a time, working an average of 16-hour daily shifts, and all with incredibly limited time off to reset and reconnect with loved ones. 

New wildland firefighters are primarily classified as “forestry technicians,” paid at the GS-3 level. Rep. Neguse is urging the Appropriations Committee to provide federal firefighters with a competitive starting salary equivalent to or above $20 an hour.

“It is critical that we are prepared for the existential threat of climate change. Across Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain West, we no longer experience wildfire seasons—but wildfire years. Federal firefighters are highly skilled, and their vital services support every major wildfire response in the U.S.” said Congressman Neguse who is Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus. “Now more than ever, this critical profession must receive a livable wage and adequate benefits. The federal pay scale must be competitive with other wildland firefighting opportunities outside of the federal government. 

The letter was signed by Representatives Neguse (CO-02), Porter (CA-45), DeFazio (OR-04), O’Halleran (AZ-01), Khanna (CA-17) , and Leger Fernández (NM-03). 

A full version of this letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Chairwoman Pingree and Ranking Member Joyce:

As you prepare the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, we ask that you include language to increase firefighter pay to reflect the hazards, risks, and qualifications of our federal wildland firefighters.

Climate change has brought about longer fire seasons—fires burning more land on average each year, more extreme fire behavior, and the increased frequency of fires in the wildland urban interface that impact more homes and communities. Every major wildfire in the U.S. relies on a federal wildfire response with federal wildland firefighters and the vital services their specialized crews provide to protect life and property.

Federal wildland firefighters are paid significantly less than their counterparts at state and local wildland fire agencies. Additionally, the federal government provides advanced-skill units not offered by state or private entities, such as Hotshot Crews, Smokejumpers, Rappellers, Helitack Crews, and Wildland Fire Modules.

Our federal firefighters answer the call of duty, leaving behind their lives and families for months at a time, working an average of 16-hour daily shifts, sleeping in the dirt, with incredibly limited time off to reset and reconnect with loved ones. Our federal firefighting workforce is severely undercompensated for these sacrifices and their ongoing service. 

Federal firefighters are classified in a more general “forestry technician” job category, meaning entry level hires often start at a GS-3 salary of $13.45 an hour. The current firefighter salaries many hardships for our workforce, who put their lives on the line for our protection. We applaud the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure no federal wildfire firefighter makes less than $15 an hour, while working to address mental health needs and other line-of-duty hazards. Additionally, we are expecting clarity on the new ‘wildland firefighter’ classification next month. We must continue to coordinate with the Office of Personnel Management to review and increase the pay scale for all federal wildland firefighters to reflect the hazardous conditions they endure.

We request you include the following language in the base text of the FY23 bill: "New wildland firefighters are primarily classified as “forestry technicians,” paid at the GS-3 level. It is the sense of the committee that federal firefighter must be provided with a competitive salary; starting at the GS-4 level, or the equivalent of above $20 an hour."

Throughout the country, our federal firefighters are answering the call of duty. We ask that you work to include this language in the FY23 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill to ensure that federal wildfire personnel are paid a salary competitive with other wildland firefighting opportunities outside of the federal government. Congress must honor their dedication to protecting homes, livelihoods, and our communities.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

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