Sinema Discusses Strengthening Arizona’s Wildfire Response, Protecting Wildland Firefighter Pay at Flagstaff Roundtable

Aug 10, 2023

Senator’s new Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act prevents unfair pay cuts for federal wildland firefighters

FLAGSTAFF – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema held a roundtable with wildfire experts and local leaders from Coconino County to discuss efforts to better prevent, mitigate, and recover from wildfires in Northern Arizona. 

The Senator highlighted historic investments she secured in her bipartisan infrastructure law that strengthen Arizona’s wildfire response, as well as her recently-introduced Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act to better recruit and retain wildland firefighters to keep communities safe. 

“I’m honored to meet with the Arizonans who ensure Arizonans stay safe and can recover quickly from wildfires. I’ll keep working side-by-side with those experts to improve our preparedness and response, and enhance safety for our brave fire and emergency medical services personnel,” said Sinema. 

recent GAO report found that the most commonly cited barrier to wildland firefighter recruitment and retention was low pay. Officials and stakeholders unanimously stated that the pay is too low and noted that the pay does not reflect the risk or physical demands of the work.

During the roundtable, Sinema discussed how her Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act – which passed the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee with broad bipartisan support – supports federal wildland firefighters by maintaining the pay raise Sinema secured in her bipartisan infrastructure law

Due to funding limitations, pay is set to revert to previous levels on October 1, 2023. Given the lower pay and grueling nature of the work, there is great concern about the ability to meet the staffing levels required to adequately respond to wildfires across the country. Sinema’s legislation would prevent these cuts from taking place. Sinema’s legislation helps ensure the federal government can recruit and retain a sufficient wildland firefighting workforce, and that these brave men and women feel supported as they protect and keep Arizonans safe from life-threatening wildfires.

In May of last year, Sinema urged the Administration to establish a special pay rate for federal wildland firefighters to prevent staffing shortages and strengthen Arizona’s wildfire response. Following Sinema’s request, the Administration announced a temporary pay raise from her law. 

Sinema’s bipartisan infrastructure law also makes historic investments in wildfire mitigation and recovery – including directing the federal government to create a new occupational series for wildland firefighters. Specifically, Sinema’s bipartisan infrastructure law provides $3 billion to implement a 10-year plan to fight wildfires in Arizona and across the country, $61 million of which will be invested directly in Arizona for the implementation of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI) as well as in four critical recovery and mitigation projects, including the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project.

Participants in Sinema’s roundtable included Flagstaff Mayor Becky Daggett, Flagstaff Vice Mayor Austin Aslan, Flagstaff Fire Department Chief Mark Gaillard, Flagstaff Fire Department Wildland Fire Battalion Chief Paul Oltrogge, Coconino County Supervisor Patrice Horstman, Coconino County Supervisor Jeronimo Vasquez, Coconino County Forest Restoration Director Jay Smith, Coconino County Deputy County Manager Lucinda Andreani, Highlands Fire District Chief Todd Miller, Coconino National Forest Deputy Fire Staff True Brown, USFS Red Rock District Ranger Amy Tinderholt, and more.