October 19, 2021

Neguse, Cheney, Porter Unveil Bipartisan, Comprehensive Legislation to Overhaul Federal Firefighter Pay, Benefits and Classification

Washington D.C. —Today, Representative Joe Neguse, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus and Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, along with Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Katie Porter (D-CA), unveiled comprehensive legislation to overhaul federal firefighter pay, benefits and classification. The legislation, Tim’s Act, is named after Tim Hart, a smokejumper from Cody, Wyoming who lost his life on May 24, 2021 while working on the Eicks Fire in New Mexico. 

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. The Forest Service employs the majority of wildland firefighters in the nation, over 10,000 employees, combating wildfires in all 50 states and internationally. In addition, the federal government provides advanced-skill units such as Hotshot Crews, Smokejumpers, Rappellers, Helitack Crews, and Wildland Fire Modules—along with the engines and hand crews it staffs at higher levels than its non-federal counterparts. Currently, wildland firefighters are primarily classified as “forestry technicians,” paid an hourly wage of $13.45 at the GS-3 level, and are often not provided adequate health care benefits or housing while on the job. According to recent studies, firefighters nationwide commit suicide 30 times as often as the general public and have a 30% increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, and 43% increase for lung cancer. 

“As the impacts of climate change worsen, wildfire seasons are turning increasingly more devastating. Last year in my district, our communities experienced the first and second largest wildfires in Colorado history, burning hundreds of thousands of acres for multiple months. As these wildfires grow larger and last longer, 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. This must change,” said Rep. Joe Neguse. “The Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, which we are unveiling today, will overhaul the system as it stands, by raising federal firefighter pay at least $20,000 annually, ensuring health care and mental health services, increased paid leave and retirement benefits and ensuring firefighters are provided appropriate lodging while on duty. In the west, our communities are depending on our fire crews to keep us safe and reduce the threat of wildfire — federal firefighters should be able to rely on the federal government for livable wages and healthy work conditions in return.”

“I'm proud to join Rep. Neguse in leading this effort to recognize the needs of our brave wildland firefighters who risk their lives to keep our lands and our families safe. I'm also proud that this legislation honors Tim Hart, a Cody native who we tragically lost earlier this year battling the Eicks Fire,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). “Across the West, smokejumpers and their families make so many sacrifices on behalf of us all, and it's critically important that we take steps to ensure that they receive adequate compensation for the dangerous work they undertake on a daily basis. This bill would take important steps in this regard, while also providing access to essential benefits. I'm hopeful we can secure broad bipartisan support for this legislation that shows Congress will not turn a blind eye to the courage and valor of our wildland firefighters.”

“Many of our state's recent record-breaking fires have happened on federal land, so keeping California families safe requires that we modernize our federal firefighter workforce,” Rep. Porter said. “I am proud to join Congressman Neguse to introduce legislation to provide federal firefighters with competitive pay, adequate leave, quality health care, and stable housing. This is the right thing to do for our brave firefighters, who risk their lives to protect our communities.”

“Tim would be humbled and honored to have this legislation be a part of his legacy and to represent the hard work and sacrifice of thousands of wildland firefighters,” said Michelle Hart, Tim Hart’s wife. “These issues were deeply important and personal to him.  Wildland firefighters deserve to be recognized and compensated for the grueling conditions in which they work and for putting their lives on the line every day. This legislation  is a major step forward in achieving that goal.”

The Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act would address pay, benefits and classification of wildland firefighter’s wholesale, the bill would: 

  • Raise federal wildland firefighter pay to at least $20 an hour; and add compensation “portal-to-portal”, increasing annual pay at least $20,000;

  • Create a federal wildland firefighter classification series, so wildland firefighters are appropriately classified for the dangerous work they are doing; 

  • Provide health care and mental health services to temporary and permanent wildland firefighters, including: 

    • creating a national “Federal Wildland Firefighter Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Database” to track chronic disease caused by on the job environmental exposure throughout the lives of current and past wildland firefighters, and 

    • launching a mental health awareness campaign, a mental health education and training program and an extensive peer to peer mental health support network for wildland firefighters and immediate family. 

  • Ensure all federal wildland firefighters earn retirement benefits for temporary seasonal employment, retroactively applying to the last 10 years of service; 

  • Establish a mandatory 1 week of mental health leave for wildland firefighters; 

  • Provide housing stipends for all firefighters on duty more than 50 miles from their primary residence; and

  • Provide tuition assistance for all permanent federal employees in the wildland firefighter classification. 

The bill is supported by Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, U.S. Hotshots Association, National Smokejumper Association, Wildland Firefighter Foundation, Eric Marsh Foundation, National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), Mystery Ranch Backpacks and Team Rubicon. 

Kelly Martin, President of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters (GWF) says “Tim’s Act or the Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act represents a significant legislative effort to correct systemic failures that have plagued the federal wildland firefighting community for decades. Grassroots Wildland Firefighters are grateful Congressman Neguse introduced this significant measure that if passed will benefit thousands of men and women who will finally be recognized as Wildland Firefighters. The bill will bring wages and benefits closer to parity with other firefighting agencies and will provide resources to support the unique mental, emotional, and physical challenges faced from increased wildfire intensity, duration, and frequency.”

“Federal firefighters are on the frontlines protecting our nation’s most important military installations, laboratories, and national forests, yet the federal government fails to provide pay and benefits commensurate with the arduous and dangerous duties they perform.  Plagued by low wages, extremely long work hours and a retirement plan that doesn’t account for their full annual salary, our firefighters merit pay and benefit plans which recognizes the sacrifices and risks they undertake in the service to our country,”  said Edward A. Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “I applaud Representative Joe Neguse for his leadership on these important issues, and I thank him for introducing legislation addressing the classification, pay and benefits of federal fire fighters ”

“To my eyes, the scope of this bill is incredibly comprehensive. As someone who has struggled with both finances and mental health throughout the course of my work as a federal wildland firefighter, I'm heartened to see the potential of an expanded mental health campaign as well as pay commensurate with the skyrocketing cost of living in the West,” said Kate Dillon, a former federal wildland firefighter, who worked in Steamboat Springs, CO during the 2020 wildfire season. “The addition of a workers' comp safety net for those who have worked in fire for 5 years and have developed illnesses due to the job would go a long way in showing that the federal government values its employees that put their time and lives on the line. I'm truly hopeful, after reading this bill, that federal wildland firefighting could become a sustainable career path, and hope to see some solid dates as well as a roadmap to implementation for these actions.”

Chris Ives, a Colorado based Federal Wildland Firefighter not speaking on behalf of his agency, states: “Tim’s Act introduced by congressman Neguse represents the most comprehensive and well thought out effort to date addressing the untenable working conditions of federal wildland firefighters.  Creating a Wildland Firefighter classification series accompanied by fair compensation, as well as holistically addressing the long term mental and physical well-being of firefighters, is an investment in the future of America.  I hope that this Bill will serve as a starting point in cultivating better care of firefighters and in turn, the communities we serve.”

Brian Gold, a Federal Wildland Firefighter based in the state of Colorado, speaking as a private citizen and not on behalf of the federal government or any public land management agency stated: “The Tim Hart Bill stands to be the single most transformative piece of legislation for the federal wildland firefighting workforce in the last fifty years.  The bill definitively establishes a professional wildland firefighting job series and with it the wages, benefits, and welfare protections that have been absent from the service for far too long.  This legislation will go a long way in alleviating the high levels of attrition and low moral that have plagued the federal wildland fire apparatus in the last few decades.”

“The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) fully supports the Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act. As fire seasons have become increasingly long and dangerous, it is imperative that federal firefighters have the resources they need to protect our country from this crisis,” said Matt Dorsey, Communications Director for the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). “Due to the strenuous nature of the duties wildland firefighters undertake, we must support these brave public servants with better pay, housing, health care, and mental health services. This legislation provides long overdue programs and resources that significantly improve the lives of wildland firefighters and their families. Congress must pass the The Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act.”

“The Wildland Firefighter Foundation applauds this legislation as a major step to meaningful reform for the wildland firefighting workforce.  Too long this brave group of men and women have been underappreciated and undercompensated for the grueling and life threatening work they undertake on behalf of millions of Americans,” said Burk Minor, Executive Director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. “The issues of pay, classification, mental and physical health, recruitment, retention, and housing instability have long plagued this workforce.  We are confident that these changes will lead to a more robust workforce which is desperately needed to tackle the challenges of the increasing length and intensity of  wildfire seasons.”

“I strongly support every measure to increase the salaries and benefits for Federal Wildland Firefighters as they are the primary and most important resource that is available to combat wildfire in Colorado and elsewhere,” said Chief James Keating, Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District in Breckenridge, CO. 

“Wildland firefighters not only put themselves on the line physically during increasingly difficult and long fire seasons, but often sacrifice family life, health, and long-term financial stability to pursue a job that often serves communities they seldom have a tie with,” said Chief Brad White, Grand Fire Protection District. “The Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act will help these men and women turn that job into a respected career with a future, at a time when we need more people, experience, and skills in the field than ever before.”

“Having seen the largest wildfire in our state’s history tear through our county, we know firsthand the incredible sacrifice that federal wildland fighters make to save our homes and our forests,” said Larimer County Commissioner Kristin Stephens. “I applaud this bill by Congressman Neguse which seeks to fairly compensate the firefighters who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our communities.” 

Read the bill text HERE. 

View fact sheet HERE. 

The legislation is also cosponsored by Representative Salud Carbajal.