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Even with new wildland firefighter pay bill, advocates worry some could still see pay cuts

  A wildland fire hand crew hikes toward the Spring Creek Fire in Colorado
A wildland fire hand crew hikes toward the Spring Creek Fire in Colorado

In just over two months, funding for temporary raises for federal wildland firefighters will run out. A bill in the U.S. Senate would create permanent raises, but advocates warn that some could still see pay cuts.

The Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act was introduced this month by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent. It would permanently raise firefighter base pay by 1.5 to 42 percent – with bigger jumps going to those lower on the federal pay scale. It also would provide supplemental payments for every day firefighters are deployed.

The advocacy group Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, which has pushed for reforms, calls the bill “a small step towards better pay for the federal wildland fire workforce” that “still falls short.”

It argues that many — especially more senior firefighters — could still see a “drastic” pay cut from the temporary raises, which have been funded by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

An analysis shared by Grassroots concludes that a higher ranking federal firefighter would have to work dozens of long incident shifts to equal the temporary bumps.

“The big goal is getting this through so we can come back and fight another fight and get everybody what they actually deserve, not just what they need to stick around for for a little bit longer,” said Max Alonzo of the National Federation of Federal Employees. That group backs the bill but also shares concerns raised by Grassroots.

Alonzo said his group also supports more comprehensive legislation known as Tim’s Act, but he’s doubtful it could pass quickly enough.

He views the Sinema proposal as “an emergency bill to make sure that we don't hit this pay cliff without something.”

Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse
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