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Petition demanding action on federal firefighter pay draws more than 13,000 signatures

A wildland firefighter keeps an eye on the blaze
A wildland firefighter keeps an eye on the blaze.

Thousands of federal firefighters and their supporters are calling for action to avoid a large and looming cut in pay.

Over the last month, the advocacy group Grassroots Wildland Firefighters has been collecting signatures for a petition demanding that Congress pass permanent pay increases. Without such a step, federal firefighters will get a large pay cut when funding for temporary raises runs out at the end of September.

Well over 13,000 people have signed so far, and this week legislators have started receiving the document, according to Grassroots Vice President Riva Duncan.

“Considering it's fire season and a lot of folks were out on assignment here in the U.S. and also helping our Canadian friends, we had an excellent turnout,” she said.

Many who signed the petition included personal messages. One firefighter wrote, “if wildland firefighter pay drops off from what was already a stop-gap pay remedy, there will be a crisis of workforce retention. If we as a country care about climate change, public health, and the safety of our communities, we need to support this dedicated workforce that is genuinely at a breaking point.”

A letter accompanying the petition will ask legislators to support the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Independent, last month.

It’s not the comprehensive reform many were hoping for, but Duncan said the bill is “a really great first step. And from what we're being told internally and with some of our meetings is that this does have a very good chance of getting passed.”

Legislators are on recess, and don’t return until September, just weeks before funding ends for the temporary 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, KUNC in Colorado and KANW 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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