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Wildland firefighters win pay rise - but is it enough?

Idaho wildland firefighters battle a blaze.
Bureau of Land Management Idaho
Idaho wildland firefighters battle a blaze.

During a historically devastating fire season, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that wildland firefighters will receive a temporary pay raise and benefits like mental health services will be more readily available.

Firefighters think the hike is promising, though it may not be enough to retain future firefighters in the southwest.

The U.S. Forest Service alone employs over 10,000 professional wildland firefighters across the nation who, at a moment’s notice, will drop everything to battle fires in our beloved forest ecosystems.

The raise for this dangerous work will go through the next two fiscal years until 2023, giving firefighters a boost of $20,000 to their base salary, or 50% of their current salary, whichever is lower.

Tom Ribe is the Co-founder of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE) and a retired wildland firefighter. He said firefighter pay and working conditions are so bad now, this rise may not change much.

“I don’t think it’s enough,” Ribe said. “They need to be able to survive. They need to not be living in their cars when they are off the fires.”

Difficulties in recruiting and retaining firefighters has also pushed Biden to call for a clearer, more defined path to climb the ranks of wildland firefighting––which Ribe wishes existed when he was younger.

“It’s a tremendous adventure! It’s a great and fascinating thing to be involved with,” Ribe said.

Firefighters will receive back pay for these raises going back to October of 2021.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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