WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), joined U.S. Senator Krysten Sinema (I-AZ) and a bipartisan group of members to introduce the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act this week. This legislation works to strengthen America’s ability to prepare for and suppress wildfires by ensuring continued fair pay for wildland firefighters.
“For years, wildland firefighters have been asked to do too much for too little,” said Senator Barrasso. “These brave heroes must be compensated for risking their lives to protect forests and communities in Wyoming and across the West. Our bipartisan Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act is a major step toward ensuring wildland firefighters are treated fairly. ”
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal wildland firefighting workforce is made up of approximately 18,700 firefighters (including fire management and support staff) from the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and from four agencies in the Department of the Interior. A recent GAO report found that the most commonly cited barrier to wildland firefighter recruitment and retention was low pay.
Until recently, most Federal wildland firefighters earned minimum wage-level incomes. This forced them to earn as much hazard and overtime pay as possible in order to get by, contributing to low workforce morale and heightened levels of burnout. In GAO’s report officials and stakeholders unanimously concluded that minimum wage-level pay “does not reflect the risk or physical demands of the work.” In 2021, Congress provided a temporary pay increase to wildland firefighters; however, this pay bump will expire near the end of September 2023. Without further Congressional action, wildland firefighters would again revert to earning minimum wage-level incomes. Agency leadership and firefighter associations have testified that a lack of further Congressional action would likely result in massive departures from the Federal wildland firefighter workforce this year and compromise Federal responsiveness to America’s growing wildfire crisis.
Senators Barrasso and Sinema were joined by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Jon Tester (D-MT).