House Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Overhaul Federal Firefighter Pay, Benefits
Under a new bipartisan bill, federal wildland firefighters would make at least $20 per hour.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation this week that would overhaul federal wildland firefighters’ compensation, starting with paying them at least $20 per hour.
Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., introduced the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act (H.R. 5631), expanding on efforts from the Biden administration and in other pending bills aimed at bringing federal firefighters’ compensation more in line with that of their counterparts in state and local governments. In August, the administration implemented a plan to ensure all federal firefighters, whose base salary is currently $13.75 per hour, make at least $15 per hour. Also sponsoring the bill are California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Salud Carbajal.
The new bill, named after a federal firefighter who died in the line of duty earlier this year, would switch federal firefighters from their current “forestry technician” position to a new dedicated job classification for firefighting and raise all federal firefighter pay to at least $20 per hour, as well as ensure compensation is provided “portal to portal,” a phrase used to describe when employees are paid for time on the job but not performing their primary duties.
Additionally, the bill would create a database to track chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease due to on-the-job exposure among federal firefighters, as well as establish a mental health program for permanent and temporary federal firefighters. It also grants temporary and seasonal firefighters access to federal retirement benefits, and applies that benefit 10 years retroactively and provides firefighters with one week of mental health leave per year.
The bill also provides housing stipends for all federal firefighters who are on duty more than 50 miles from their primary residence and grants tuition assistance to all permanent federal wildland firefighters.
“As the impacts of climate change worsen, wildfire seasons are turning increasingly more devastating,” Neguse said. “[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 increasingly limited time off to reset and reconnect with loved ones. This must change.”
“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,” Cheney said. “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.”
In a statement, National Federation of Federal Employees National President Randy Erwin said improving federal firefighters’ compensation and benefits are essential to retaining these workers, who often quit over compensation issues in favor of state or local firefighting jobs, especially as the federal government increasingly relies on them during the ever lengthening wildfire season.
“For far too long, federal wildland firefighters have endured low wages, poor benefits and insufficient resources, all while putting their lives on the line to protect our country,” Erwin said. “The time is now to finally deliver for wildland firefighters and provide the pay, benefits and support programs that they desperately need and deserve.”