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FFs are leaving the U.S. Forest Service for better pay, benefits

Union says as many as half of the FFs who fight fires on USFS land could resign if no permanent solution improves pay


United States Forest Service/Facebook

By Bill Carey

LOS ANGELES — Officials and advocates warn that thousands of federal wildland firefighters could resign if Congress fails to pass a permanent pay increase.

The National Federation of Federal Employees believes that between 30% to 50% of the approximately 11,000 firefighters who fight wildfires across land managed by the U.S. Forest Service could resign in coming seasons if there is no long-term solution to persistently low wages and poor benefits, NBC News reported.

“This is an absolute crisis,” Max Alonzo, an organizer with the federation said. “The majority of people I know already have their applications out for other jobs and they’re just waiting.”

Bills were introduced this year in the House and the Senate that would codify an existing pay increase under President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, which temporarily increased salaries for wildland firefighters by up to $20,000.

That increase is set to expire at the end of September and roll back salaries for thousands of federal firefighters.

Officials with the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California saw 42 resignations in 48 hours in May. Many of those firefighters left for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, considered prime employer due to large salaries, robust benefits and a work schedule that had been negotiated down from a from 72-hour work week to a 66-hour work week.

Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, an advocacy organization, issued a report showing federal firefighters were paid on average 32.51% below their state counterparts. In California, the disparity is just above 56%.

“We absolutely need Congress to take action and put in place a permanent pay fix,” Forest Service Deputy Chief Jaelith Hall-Rivera said. “If we’re not able to do that and we’re not able to give them that certainty going into the future, they are going to need to look elsewhere for a position that does provide that certainty.”

Federal wildland firefighters have warned that without a permanent pay raise, their ranks would dwindle even as wildfires continue to increase in both intensity and frequency across the country.