The 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, burned portions of White River National Forest.

The 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, burned portions of White River National Forest. Adventure_Photo / iStock

Federal Firefighters to See Pay Increase Next Week

The pay raise, intended to ensure firefighters receive at least $15 per hour, was promised by President Biden earlier this year and will be retroactive to June 30.

Officials at the Agriculture and Interior departments announced Tuesday that the Biden administration’s initiative to ensure that federal wildland firefighters are paid at least $15 per hour will be implemented with the paychecks those firefighters receive next week.

In June, President Biden expressed dismay at the fact that federal firefighters only make $13 per hour, less than many state and local first responders and the $15 minimum wage he has ordered the Office of Personnel Management to consider for all federal employees and contractors. Last month, Biden announced that in the meantime, agencies would boost firefighter pay through a combination of retention incentives and one-time cash awards.

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed that those measures would be implemented in time for the paycheck wildland firefighters are schedule to receive on August 24. The Interior Department employs around 5,000 wildland firefighters, of whom 3,500 are eligible for pay increases under the initiative, while 11,300 of the Agriculture Department’s more than 14,000 firefighters will see their pay increase.

“As climate change brings longer fire seasons and more extreme fire behavior, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to wildland fire preparedness and response,” Haaland said. “The brave women and men on the frontlines deserve fair pay for their work to protect our families, our communities and our lands from the increasing threat of fire. By improving pay, we will not only support our wildland firefighters in a challenging year but also improve our ability to hire and retain top talent.”

The pay increase will be retroactive to June 30, meaning firefighters who receive raises will also get a lump sum of backpay next week. The departments said they will pay awards to all frontline firefighters currently earning less than $15 per hour to ensure their pay meets that threshold.

Additionally, all temporary frontline federal firefighters will receive a $1,300 award, while all permanent firefighters up to GS-9 will receive an award equal to 10% of six months of their current base pay.

“With the growing threat of climate change, severe droughts and longer, more intense fire years, we must have more resources to protect communities, infrastructure and the environment we all depend on,” Vilsack said. “Supporting our brave firefighters with pay, benefits and career opportunities that reflect the importance and danger of the work that they do is critical to facing the mounting wildfire threat.”