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Oh Sure, Joe Biden Just THROWING MONEY At ... Firefighters? Good, Thank You, Carry On
Pay raises, thanks to the 2021 infrastructure law.
With another horrible fire season on the way thanks to drought and the climate emergency, President Joe Biden signed off on a big raise yesterday for federal wildland firefighters. In a White House press statement, Biden said,
There’s an old expression that God made man – and then he made a few firefighters. Firefighters are some of the bravest men and women among us, and the backbones of our communities, protecting our homes, businesses, schools, and families from catastrophe.
Biden last year raised federal firefighter pay from $13 an hour to $15, and the new pay boosts their wages further, using $600 million from last year's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to increase firefighters' base salary by either $20,000 annually or 50 percent of their current base pay, whichever is less.
As of yet, no Republicans have accused wildland firefighters of being lazy takers feeding off the public teat; if any do, we're sure the Bureau of Land Management could arrange to hand them a Pulaski, a hardhat, and an emergency fire shelter and let them get an appreciation for the job. (We kid. We would never want to endanger actual firefighters by saddling them with such a teammate.)
The wage increase was originally meant to go into effect last October 1, but the Biden administration delayed implementing the raises while it reviewed recruitment and retention data to decide who should get pay increases. As the Associated Press explains, that's because the infrastructure law specified the higher wages should go to firefighters “located within a specified geographic area in which it is difficult to recruit or retain a federal wildland firefighter.”
Ultimately, though, the administration decided to give all 16,000-plus federal firefighters the raise for two fiscal years, retroactive to October 1, 2021, perhaps on the logic that "North America" is where it's difficult to recruit and retain wildland fire crews. Biden also pledged to work with Congress to go beyond the temporary pay increase so that wildland firefighters could have some real security, at least compared to fighting wildfires in dry, rugged terrain.
The wider pay increase had been supported by the union for federal civil servants, the National Federation of Federal Employees, whose president, Randy Erwin, issued a statement saying the wage increase would be "life-changing for thousands of federal wildland firefighters" who'll be able to afford housing, childcare, and maybe even some nice things now and then.
"They did the right thing and implemented this pay increase nationwide and as fast as they could. As a consequence, communities are going to be protected and lives are going to be saved. It really is that simple." Better pay, he said, will aid in the recruitment and retention of the federal firefighter workforce, currently a problem in every geographic area, according to an interagency FAQ on the implementation of the new pay schedule.
Oh, I see I was right!
2021 was another record-setting year for wildfires, according to the Department of Interior, with 48,487 wildfires burning more than 6.5 million acres and killing 15 firefighters and 33 civilians. 2022 is already shaping up to be bad , with catastrophic fires in New Mexico and in Northern Arizona already. A lighting-caused fire in Southern Arizona this week forced the evacuation of personnel from the Kitt Peak National Observatory, although the telescopes have so far been safe. Four buildings that officials emphasized were not used for research were destroyed.
So yes, wildland firefighters have already been plenty busy even before summer officially began yesterday, and with drought and climate change, the fire season is almost year-round.
In addition to the firefighter pay raise, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture are creating a program that will focus on firefighters' physical and mental health; that will also be funded by the infrastructure law.
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