Sinema Introduces Bill to Protect Pay for Wildland Firefighters

Jul 13, 2023

Sinema secured a pay raise for wildlife firefighters while writing and negotiating her bipartisan infrastructure law

WASHINGTON – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema, along with U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), introduced the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act – legislation maintaining the pay raise secured for wildland firefighters in Sinema’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
“Wildland firefighters in Arizona and across the country risk their lives to keep our communities safe. Recognizing their sacrifice and hard work, I secured fair pay in my bipartisan infrastructure law for wildland firefighters, and now I’m ensuring this pay is permanent,” said Senator Sinema, co-author and lead negotiator of the bipartisan infrastructure law.
“For years, wildland firefighters have been asked to do too much for too little,” said Senator Barrasso. “These brave heroes must be compensated for risking their lives to protect forests and communities in Wyoming and across the West. Our bipartisan Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act is a major step toward ensuring wildland firefighters are treated fairly.”
“America’s federal firefighters bravely put their lives on the line to protect all of us from the devastating impact of wildfires. I am happy that both parties were able to come together to ensure that our federal firefighters are supported. This bipartisan legislation will help us recruit and retain qualified individuals to our firefighting workforce. As I heard in our Energy and Natural Resources hearing last month, without this legislation we risk losing a sizable portion of our workforce, which is unacceptable,” said Senator Manchin, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“As fire season devastates Montana communities year after year, Montana wildland firefighters put everything on the line to protect Montana families and towns. I was glad to work with my colleagues across the aisle to secure a well-deserved pay-raise for these Montana heroes and now it’s time we make this compensation permanent,” said Senator Daines.
“Wildland firefighters across the country deserve our full support as they heroically risk their lives on the frontlines to protect our communities,” said Senator Padilla. “This legislation permanently preserves federal firefighter pay and acknowledges the extreme strain of the job by providing support for critical rest and recuperation time. While we owe it to them to swiftly pass this legislation, this is only a first step and I remain committed to continuing to better support our federal firefighters.”
“Montana’s wildland firefighters put their lives on the line to protect our communities and public lands, and the least we can do is ensure fair and competitive pay for the work they do,” said Senator Tester. “This fire season, these brave men and women are our first line of defense against disaster, and they’ve earned the right to be fairly compensated for the dangerous work they do—including for adequate recovery time after a tough fire. Our bipartisan bill will make that compensation permanent, and I’ll be fighting to get it across the finish line in Congress.”
“NTEU appreciates and commends the work done by Sens. Sinema, Manchin, Barasso, Tester, Daines, and Padilla to ensure our nation’s wildland firefighters are paid fairly. We expect a lot from these firefighters and it is only right that their pay reflects the dangerous conditions they face on the job. Wildland firefighters, like those at the Department of Interior, are dedicated public servants who risk their lives to keep us safe. NTEU urges swift passage of this legislation to prevent the upcoming ‘pay cliff,’ and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to support our hardworking wildland firefighters,” said Tony Reardon, National President, National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).
“This is a welcome down-payment on a sorely needed continuous investment in our federal wildland fire workforce. Wildfires will continue to impact millions of people across the US, and we need to ensure we have wildland firefighters to respond whenever the call is made,” said Riva Duncan, Vice President, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.
“In terms of addressing our growing wildland fire crises, the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act (WFPPA) is absolutely critical to prevent the worst-case scenario within the federal wildland firefighting services this year. If the provisions within this law do not pass by September 30, federal wildland firefighters will endure a pay cliff of a 50% cut of their base pay up to $20,000. If this happens, a mass exodus will begin that may be impossible to stop. Thankfully, there is a tremendous amount of bipartisan support for the WFPPA. In addition to continuing existing practices on pay, the bill recognizes the 24/7 working life of wildland firefighters while on assignment, and it calls attention to the burnout and exhaustion that these firefighters experience throughout the year. I call upon every member of the Congress to pass this bill quickly. The WFPPA represents a first step in modernizing the federal wildland fire services so that in the future, the country can see fewer smokey days,” said Randy Erwin, National President, National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE)
Sinema’s Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act supports federal wildland firefighters by maintaining the pay raise Sinema secured in her bipartisan infrastructure law. 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.
Sinema’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes historic investments in wildfire mitigation and recovery – including the ability for the federal government to create a new occupational series for wildland firefighters and set aside funding for pay increases. 
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. 
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 and labor levels required to adequately respond to wildfires across the country. 
Sinema’s Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act continues her work strengthening Arizona’s ability to prevent, prepare for, and mitigate wildfires by making wildland firefighters’ pay raise permanent.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal wildland firefighting workforce is made up of approximately 18,700 firefighters (including fire management and support staff) from the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and from four agencies in the Department of the Interior.
A recent report conducted by GAO 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.