Biden promises to end ‘ridiculously low salary’ for federal firefighters

“I didn’t realize it, I have to admit that federal firefighters are paid $13 an hour. That’s going to end up in my administration,” Biden said Tuesday.

President Joe Biden this week promised to increase the pay of federal firefighters, some of whom earn just $13 an hour doing life-threatening work that is only intensifying as fires become deadly and more frequent. .

“There’s an old expression: God created man, and then he created some firefighters. They have a higher incidence of serious injuries than police officers. They’re incredibly, incredibly brave.” [in] What do they do? They run to the fire,” Biden said Tuesday during a meeting with administrators of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and senior advisers from the Department of Homeland Security.

“I didn’t realize it, I have to admit, federal firefighters are paid $13 an hour,” he said. “It is going to end in my administration. That’s a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters.”

Biden also announced that he would meet with Western governors and cabinet members next week to prepare for “heat, drought and wildfire.”

“We are in for a tough season, but I think we have to be prepared and have every resource available to make sure we are there for the American people,” Biden said.

The same day the president made his remarks, California Sense. Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla, both Democrats, sent a joint letter with Sens. Kirsten Cinemas, D-Ariz., and Steve Dines, R-Mont., call on Financial Services and the General Government Subcommittee on Personnel Management to increase federal firefighter pay to include language in their 2022 funding bill Directs the office, which looks after the salaries of government employees.

“Federal wildland firefighters’ salaries are significantly lower than their counterparts in state and local wildland fire agencies, even though they have comparable job duties,” senators wrote in the letter.

“We strongly believe that the US government should modernize and update the job classification and pay grading of federal wildland firefighters, which were established more than 30 years ago and are now in line with the current wildfire risk and job market. are out of sync,” he said.

Federal wildland firefighters are in a precarious position where they are classified as forestry technicians, who do not receive the same pay and benefits offered to state and municipal firefighters. Many of them are hired as seasonal employees, who have to reapply for their jobs every year. The issue of classification has long rankled United States Forest Service employees, some of whom joke solemnly that only in death are they recognized as firefighters.

USFS firefighter pay is determined by the federal pay scale, where most begin GS-3 Level And pay about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. By comparison, a first-year firefighter with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known as Cal Fire, makes approximately double that amount.

Due to low pay and unreliable job security, states in the West are facing a dwindling federal workforce as firefighters leave for the Cal Fire or other more lucrative opportunities. The problem is particularly acute in California, which is also seeing an increase in fire activity year after year.

“With fires increasing in both the size and complexity, we need a change in the way we fight these fires,” Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, an organization advocating on behalf of federal firefighters, said in a statement. “The volatile situation we are in right now, risking our lives and their mental health for a wage of less than $14/hour, is unable to retain employees when we need them more than ever. “

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