Cheney Co-Sponsors Bill to Support Federal Wildland Firefighters
Announced in a press release, Representative Liz Cheney has co-sponsored a bill, introduced by Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO) and co-sponsored by two other Democrats in California, Katie Porter and Salud Carbajal, which would increase federal firefighter pay and benefits, and change their classification.
Specifically, the bill would increase federal wildland firefighters pay to around $20 an hour, up from the current pay of around $13 an hour, expand who can seek retirement benefits, and provide housing stipends and one week of mental health leave.
While the bill would help federal wildland firefighters, it would not provide any benefits for volunteer firefighters, who make up the majority of firefighters across the country.
In Wyoming, out the of the 114 fire departments, 88.6% are either entirely volunteer or mostly volunteer.
A report by the National Fire Protection Association found however between 2015 and 2019, career firefighters accounted for 83% of annual fire-ground injuries, compared to volunteers accounting for the other 17%.
According to the report, this discrepancy could be to due two factors: volunteers working on a part-time basis and firefighters in general underreporting injuries.
As a result, the exact number may be difficult to calculate.
It is unclear how likely the bill is to pass, as it does not currently have a Senate co-sponsor, and has only been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committees on Natural Resources, and Agriculture.
I'm proud to join Rep. Neguse in leading this effort to recognize the needs of our brave wildland firefighters who risk their lives to keep our lands and our families safe. I'm also proud that this legislation honors Tim Hart, a Cody native who we tragically lost earlier this year battling the Eicks Fire. Across the West, smokejumpers and their families make so many sacrifices on behalf of us all, and it's critically important that we take steps to ensure that they receive adequate compensation for the dangerous work they undertake on a daily basis. This bill would take important steps in this regard, while also providing access to essential benefits. I'm hopeful we can secure broad bipartisan support for this legislation that shows Congress will not turn a blind eye to the courage and valor of our wildland firefighters.
While not mentioned by Cheney in her statement, Rep. Neguse said in his statement that due to climate change, the need to support firefighters becomes even more important.
As the impacts of climate change worsen, wildfire seasons are turning increasingly more devastating. Last year in my district, our communities experienced the first and second largest wildfires in Colorado history, burning hundreds of thousands of acres for multiple months. As these wildfires grow larger and last longer, federal firefighters answer the call of duty, leaving behind their lives and families for months at a time, working an average of 16-hour daily shifts, sleeping in the dirt, with incredibly limited time off to reset and reconnect with loved ones. This must change...In the west, our communities are depending on our fire crews to keep us safe and reduce the threat of wildfire — federal firefighters should be able to rely on the federal government for livable wages and healthy work conditions in return.