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Senators from Montana want a permanent salary raise for federal wildland firefighters



Helena, Montana – In an effort to enhance recruitment and retention, Congress approved temporary wage increases for federal wildland firefighters two years ago.

However, unless politicians take new action, those hikes will terminate at the end of September.

The two senators from Montana who are in favor of preventing a “pay cliff” for these firemen are in agreement.

“I hope fire season is over with by the end of September, but chances are it won’t be — and we need these folks,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. “We need them out there fighting fires.”

“These men and women spend every fire season on the frontlines protecting our communities and our families,” said Republican Sen. Steve Daines. “I believe it’s important their pay reflects this.”

The wage raises were given congressional approval up to $600 million in 2021 as part of a bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Nearly 20,000 firefighters, including more than 14,000 employed by the U.S. Forest Service and 5,000 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, were said to have earned $381 million in supplementary pay as of June, according to the Biden administration.

The interim raise increased the basic pay of firemen by up to $20,000, or 50% of their prior base pay. However, the funding for such increases will be exhausted on September 30th, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The “Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act,” which would give firemen permanent raises in base pay, has Daines and Tester as co-sponsors.

The bill and a related one presented in the House this week both enjoy bipartisan support.

If Congress does not take action soon and firefighter salaries return to their previous levels, Daines warned that there might be obvious consequences.

“Several Montana wildland firefighters have told me they fear that, without making this pay increase permanent, up to 50% of federal wildland firefighters will quit,” he said. “The time to make this pay raise permanent is now.”

Tester expressed confidence that a remedy might pass before the deadline, maybe as an amendment to another important piece of legislation.

He claimed that lawmakers from throughout the nation are now understanding the value of wildland firefighters.

“A month and a half ago, Washington, D.C. — the whole East Coast — was covered with smoke from Canadian fires,” said Tester. “That may be the best thing that could have ever happened because that’s what we live with here in Montana. Every August, we end up with smoky weather more times than not. And I think it brought about an awareness that wasn’t there before, and I think it helped on this bill.”

After Labor Day, the Senate will reconvene, and the House will follow a week later. That leaves lawmakers with just under a month to move the bill forward before the fiscal year comes to a close.

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