Over the last two summers, as wildfires incinerated much of Lane County, I saw countless yard signs thanking the firefighters who risked their lives to protect our homes. Finally, the bipartisan infrastructure bill transformed this gratitude into action.
U.S. Forest Service firefighters have not been fairly compensated for their extremely dangerous jobs. Entry-level federal firefighters are seasonal workers who earn only $13.45 per hour. Many can only pay their bills by working exhausting amounts of overtime. Typically, Forest Service firefighters work 16 hours a day for 14 days straight, with two days of rest between assignments. These seasonal firefighters are ineligible for federal retirement plans or year-round health insurance.
Many firefighters simply cannot afford to perform extremely arduous work that pays less than the fast-food industry. For this reason, many have left the profession or transferred to state agencies like CALFIRE that pay double the federal wages. According to Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, the federal firefighting force was staffed at 25 percent below normal levels this summer. Lane County cannot afford to lose any firefighters — not with climate change making each fire season more catastrophic.
Fortunately, Congress finally invested in our communities and in our firefighters by passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This bill included provisions to raise entry-level firefighters’ pay by $20,000 annually and converted 1,000 seasonal firefighters to permanent positions with full benefits. Thank you, Rep. Peter DeFazio, for working with your colleagues to pass this bill. Our heroes deserved it. The safety of our communities depended upon it.