September 21, 2021

Neguse Introduces Legislation to Secure Housing and Provide Mental Health Services for Federal Wildland Firefighters

Neguse is working to add the provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

Washington D.C. —Today, Congressman Joe Neguse, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, unveiled new legislation to provide housing stipends and mental health services for federal wildland firefighters. The Housing Our Firefighters Act would establish a housing stipend for federal wildland firefighters, hired at a location more than 50 miles from their primary residence, and the Care for Our Firefighters Act would secure mental health programs for federal wildland firefighters, including a mental health awareness campaign, peer-to-peer support network, expansion of the Critical Incident Stress Management Program, mental health leave, and ensuring trauma-informed mental health professionals are readily available to provide services. Congressman Neguse introduced both provisions as stand-alone measures and as amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2022. Congressman Neguse plans to introduce comprehensive legislation to overhaul federal firefighter pay, benefits and classification in the coming weeks. 

The increase in public demand and expectations placed on wildland firefighters to respond to ever larger and more intense wildfires is far from abating, and is only expected to exponentially increase in the coming years. The current federal wildland fire workforce is understaffed, overworked and leaving a wake of mental health issues, suicide, high divorce rates and a high incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

“Our federal firefighters, many who are veterans, are simply not receiving the support they need. As the impacts of climate change worsen, wildfire seasons are turning increasingly more intense and lengthy, and it is critical that we provide necessary support to equip our firefighters and support this high-skilled profession,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “The Housing Our Firefighters Act and the Care for Our Firefighters Act, two bills we are unveiling today, will provide critical mental health support and housing stipends for our nation’s federal wildland firefighters. These provisions would be a first step to get our federal firefighters critical support, while we work on a long-term overhaul of firefighter pay, benefits and classification.” 

“Grassroots Wildland Firefighters support these amendments and thank Rep. Neguse for these first steps towards helping to decrease instances of housing insecurity and mental health issues that are prevalent amongst our Federal Wildland Firefighters. We are grateful for the long overdue congressional leadership that Representative Neguse is taking to address classification, pay, and benefits as well as the comprehensive health and well-being of our Federal Wildland Fighting workforce. These reforms are urgent and long overdue in order to address the current and future capacity and national response capability of our federal Wildland workforce,” said Grassroots Wildland Firefighters. 

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. 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. 

See text for the Housing our Firefighters Act HERE. 

See text for Care for our Firefighters Act HERE.