Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, a bill to waive annual premium pay caps for federal firefighters working overtime due to wildfire emergencies.
“Wildfires are becoming bigger, hotter and more frequent as climate change continues to expand the traditional fire season,” said Senator Feinstein. “In California, most of those fires are on federal land, which leaves federally employed firefighters responsible for extinguishing them. The current overtime pay cap for these brave men and women is outdated and represents a significant hurdle in retaining our most-experienced firefighters. Lifting this cap would ensure that these first responders are fairly paid for their hard work while helping build a federal firefighting service that can meet the challenges of our ‘new normal’ when it comes to wildfires.”
Why the bill is necessary:
- Federal firefighters from the Departments of Interior and Agriculture are paid on the General Schedule (GS) payscale based on their seniority and performance. They make a base salary and are paid overtime when they exceed eight hours a day. However, there is an annual salary cap that limits how many overtime hours for which they can be paid.
- During wildfire season (typically toward the end of the year for California), many federally employed firefighters exceed the annual pay cap and receive no pay for additional overtime hours worked, while others are forced to pay back money they rightfully earned fighting wildfires.
- The current overtime pay cap serves as a disincentive for many experienced firefighters who would deploy to wildfire incidents, especially later in the fire season.
- The Forest Service estimates that up to 500 senior-level firefighters either stop participating or do not request pay for hours worked once they reach the pay cap. This has a significant effect on federal wildfire response capabilities.
- In 2020, California experienced 9,600 fires that killed 33 people, burned 4.1 million acres and destroyed 10,000 structures