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As wildland firefighter pay cuts loom, lawmakers propose permanent raise

A firefighter lights fire with a drip torch during a 2022 prescribed burn on the Payette National Forest
A firefighter lights fire with a drip torch during a 2022 prescribed burn on the Payette National Forest

Several federal lawmakers are proposing legislation that would permanently raise pay for federal wildland firefighters, among other measures meant to support and retain them as burdens of the work mount.

Tim’s Act is named after smokejumper Tim Hart, who died from injuries sustained during a 2021 New Mexico wildfire. It was originally introduced that same year. Elements of it – like job classification reforms and a temporary pay bump – became law through other means.

Earlier this month it was reintroduced by Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse and Sen. Michael Bennet, both Democrats. It would provide housing stipends for some firefighters, allow for paid rest and provide mental health services to permanent and seasonal workers, among other things, according to Neguse’s office. It would also make permanent pay raises set to end on October 1.

“Our federal firefighters sacrifice so much, and they deserve fair pay, benefits, and the resources necessary to do their jobs. We must ensure they are paid a wage that reflects the value of their work,” Neguse said in a statement.

Luke Mayfield, president of the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, which supports the bill, shared what he described as the “worst case scenario.”

“Everybody takes a cut and that is what we're calling the federal firefighter fiscal cliff,” he said. “And we think that there will be a huge exodus of the federal workforce if that happens.”

“It cannot happen,” he added. “We have made too many steps forward. We need to put the golden spike in this process and take care of the people that are still showing up to work.”

The highly experienced former hotshot said that there’s support for a permanent fix, and is hopeful that one way or another the pay cliff will be addressed. President Joe Biden’s proposed 2024 budget also includes permanent raises.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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