Padilla Applauds Pay Raise for Federal Firefighters
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) released the following statement after the Biden-Harris administration announced it is implementing a new set of pay increases that deliver retroactive pay increases to federal wildland firefighters, and improves recruitment and retention:
“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. 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.”
Federal wildland firefighters are severely underpaid compared to their state counterparts. This low pay, combined with a longer fire season and more intense and dangerous wildfires, means federal land management agencies are faced with significant recruitment and retention problems.
In addition to 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. Senator 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.
Over the coming summer months, the administration will implement a new set of temporary pay increases that will put retroactive pay (from October 1, 2021) into wildland firefighters’ pockets and increase their bi-weekly pay by the lesser of $20,000 or 50 percent of their annual base salary through September 2023. Federal agencies will begin processing these payments in the coming weeks, with additional payments to occur throughout July and August.
These actions are funded by $600 million that Padilla helped secure in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for wildfire response and drought relief, and serve as a bridge for two years as the administration works with Congress on longer-term reforms.
Since taking office, Padilla has made improving the federal response to wildfires, including supporting federal firefighter overtime pay, one of his top priorities. Last month, he introduced two bills to support efforts in California and across the country to put fires out faster and better protect communities from post-fire flooding. Padilla also introduced the FIRE Act, which would update the Stafford Act to improve FEMA’s response to wildfires and was approved by the Senate Homeland Security Committee earlier this year.