Tester Pushes Biden Administration to Increase Pay for Federal Wildland Firefighters

Senator pushes for special pay rate to combat wildland firefighter staffing shortages

In his continued push for wildfire preparedness, U.S. Senator Jon Tester and a bipartisan group of colleagues today urged the Biden Administration to establish a special pay rate for federal wildland firefighters in order to combat staffing shortages as fire season approaches.

“Years of low pay and other issues have hollowed out the federal wildland firefighting workforce.” wrote Tester in a letter to the heads of the Department of Agriculture, Interior, and Office of Personnel Management (OPM). “This is an urgent threat to natural resources, public safety, and taxpayer dollars, as the Federal Government pays a premium to contract and borrow firefighting resources from state and local authorities when federal resources are unavailable…We must stop attrition and commit to rebuilding the ranks of our firefighting service. This starts with increases in pay and benefits. The situation is urgent, and we stand ready to work with you to ensure our federal wildland firefighters are fully supported and compensated.”

Tester has led the effort to support firefighters and provide relief for communities affected by wildfires in Montana.

Last month, Tester secured $19.3 million for wildfire mitigation in Kootenai National Forest through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Tester negotiated the IIJA and helped pass it into law last year, and he was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to support the bipartisan legislation. IIJA required OPM, in conjunction with land management agencies, to create a wildland firefighter class within 180 days, included $600 million for wildland firefighter pay salaries, with a requirement to increase the base pay for wildland firefighters a minimum of $20,000, and to seek to convert 1,000 firefighters to year-long positions, along with $100 million for workforce training, including fire crews.

Last year, wildfires burned nearly 940,000 acres across Montana, making it the worst wildfire season the state had seen since 2017. National Guard troops were deployed to help combat what was declared a wildfire emergency. This year, Montana is expected to suffer from another severe wildfire season.

Tester, who is Co-Chair of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, is a longtime champion for federal, state, and local firefighters. Last year, he introduced his bipartisan First Responders Fair RETIRE Act to help federal firefighters, first responders, and others with dangerous jobs receive their full retirement benefits. He is also a cosponsor of the Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act, which would make it easier for federal fire fighters to swap shifts without risking pay, and he recently supported the Federal Fire Fighters Fairness Act to create a presumption that heart disease, certain cancers, and other diseases contracted by federal firefighters are job-related in order to help them get the health or disability benefits they deserve.

Tester cosponsored the Firefighter and EMS Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to ensure Montana’s state and local firefighters maintain the right to engage in collective bargaining. He continues to push for increased funding for Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants to ensure that fire department across the state have the resources and staffing they need to keep our communities safe.

Tester’s full letter can be found HERE.