OPM mulls salary increase for federal firefighters

Federal firefighters could get a salary boost under an Office of Personnel Management proposal to raise the entry-level General Schedule grade for those jobs.

OPM is seeking comments from federal human resources directors on a proposal that would change entry-level pay for federal firefighters from GS-5 to GS-7 levels. That could hike the entry-level salary for the position from as little as $23,442 annually to more than $30,000 annually. The change would also affect the promotion potential for nearly 9,000 federal firefighters, netting them an increase in salary as well.

"Federal firefighters are in that selfless group of men and women who battle infernos, provide emergency medical services and conduct removal and decontamination services for hazardous materials," said OPM Director Kay Coles James. "They provide essential services, and it is so important that they be recognized and compensated for their professionalism."

The change is part of an initiative to reassess the classification of federal firefighters to include their expanded duties, particularly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the firefighters' subsequent role in first responder activities. These include providing emergency medical services and removal of hazardous materials on government and military installations, among many other duties. According to OPM, the classification standard was last reviewed more than 10 years ago.

"On this solemn occasion of the Sept. 11 anniversary, it is right and fitting that federal firefighters should receive this recognition of their special contribution to the American people," said American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage. "This courageous group of government workers, who every day put their lives on the line for their country, have been paid too little for too long." Agencies with firefighting missions include the Agriculture Department's Forest Service, and the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2001, federal agencies scrambled to hire roughly 6,000 new firefighting employees, but some agencies still fell short of needed firefighters this summer. The increased pay could help in retention and recruitment efforts.

"AFGE has worked tirelessly for the last several years, advocating changes to the pay and entry-level grades of federal firefighters, and we thank Director James for her work with us on this important issue," Gage said. "Let's hope that as this draft standard is reviewed by agency heads, the pay and grade raises emerge unscathed, with union rights and civil service protections for the firefighters left intact."

The period for comments ends on Nov. 30.

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