In the midst of a scorching summer, thousands of wildfire firefighters are expected to walk off the job if they are not fairly compensated.
Under President Joe's Biden's infrastructure bill, wildland firefighters saw salary increases of up to $20,000. The temporary measure expires at the end of September, and will lower firefighter salaries by tens of thousands of dollars without action from Congress.
According to the National Federation of Federal Employees, 11,000 firefighters currently combat wildfires across millions of acres of land under the U.S. Forest Service. If Congress fails to pass a permanent pay increase, 30 to 50 percent are expected to resign in the coming months.
“This is an absolute crisis,” Max Alonzo, an organizer with the federation, said via NBC. “The majority of people I know already have their applications out for other jobs and they’re just waiting.”
A bipartisan group comprised of six senators introduced the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act earlier this week, which would solidify the pay increase. A similar bipartisan bill in May would increase pay, as well as provide mental and physical health, housing, retirement, and tuition assistance benefits. It is currently under review by the forestry subcommittee.
Many firefighters have been leaving the national branch for positions in state departments, primarily in California, where firefighters make 56 percent more than their federal counterparts. On average, state firefighters make 32.51 percent more than federal workers, according to a recent report by Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.
Aaron Foye told NBC that he resigned from the San Bernardino National Forest last September to take a job with Cal Fire, noting that it was the "best decision I ever made.
“I felt like I was being selfish working at the Forest Service because I wasn’t really providing enough for my family,” he said. “All of our best talent with the Forest Service has bled out in the last two years."
Foye said that he "would return in a heartbeat" to the Forest Service if benefits and pay improved.