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Advocates hopeful that wildfire pay measure included in House spending bill could bring a permanent solution

Forest Service Firefighters
Kari Greer
U.S. Forest Service
Forest Service Firefighters

For several years, federal wildland firefighters have enjoyed temporary raises without any clear path toward permanent raises. Now advocates are hopeful that language tucked into a larger spending bill could be the way forward.

Last Friday, Republican Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson told the appropriations subcommittee he heads that the funding bill being considered – the Fiscal Year 2025 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act – contained $330 million for permanent raises for firefighters.

“The permanent pay fix included in this bill will improve … firefighter recruitment and retention, which is absolutely necessary,” he added. “And provide financial certainty to the men and women protecting our communities from catastrophic wildfires.”

A standalone bill, the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, was introduced in both houses last year, but has only advanced significantly in the Senate.

“We needed a champion to attach it to a bigger bill and into the appropriations bill, which we got,” said Montana-based smokejumper Isaac Karuzas, a union steward with the National Federation of Federal Employees, which has been pushing heavily for pay raises and other wildfire reforms. “And Simpson was a huge proponent for this, along with other representatives and senators.”

A number of steps remain before the legislation could become law, but given substantial bipartisan support for wildfire pay, Karuzas said he’s hopeful.

The measure would raise the base pay of wildland firefighters by percentages ranging from 1.5 to 42 percent, with the largest increases going to those lowest on the payscale, according to the text of the appropriations bill. The measure would also provide additional pay – up to $9,000 annually – for every day firefighters are on qualifying incidents.

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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