Santa Barbara News-Press: Padilla praises new pay raises for federal firefighters

By Katherine Zehnder

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., is praising the Biden administration for its implementation of retroactive pay increases for federal wildland firefighters.

The administration announced the pay increase on Tuesday. The pay increase is a result of the bipartisan infrastructure law. 

“As the climate crisis extends and intensifies wildfire season, we owe a debt of gratitude to the courageous firefighters who work so hard to protect our communities,” Sen. Padilla said in a statement. “Fires are growing increasingly dangerous and frequent, yet federal firefighter salaries have lagged. Uncompetitive salaries have cost us talented individuals and undermined staffing levels.

“I applaud the administration for heeding our calls to increase compensation and support for federal firefighters who save lives and protect our communities,” said Sen. Padilla. 

Besides the pay increases, the administration announced a new Wildland Fire Management occupational series created by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as well as a new initiative to support the mental health of federal firefighters. 

Sen. Padilla called on the administration last year to examine current staffing structures and more recently wrote to the administration highlighting the staffing shortages, urging increased pay and the swift creation of a new occupational series to support and aid in the recruitment of federal firefighters. 

During the coming months, the administration will implement a new set of temporary pay increases that will put retroactive pay (from Oct. 1, 2021) into wildland firefighters’ pockets and increase their biweekly pay by the lesser of $20,000 or 50% of their annual base salary through September 2023, according to Sen. Padilla’s office.

Federal agencies will begin processing these payments in the coming weeks, with additional payments to occur throughout July and August.

“Because the pay increase under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is temporary, the Biden-Harris Administration supports a new firefighter pay structure that is both sufficiently competitive and equitable to address longstanding nationwide recruitment and retention challenges and consider the longer work shifts, pressures and risks associated with these jobs,” the White House said in a statement.

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