Wildland Firefighters could see 50 percent pay cuts in two weeks

Senator Sinema works to pass bipartisan legislation to prevent that from happening
Wildland firefighters are at risk of salary cuts as the clock ticks down on federal funding approved two years ago.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 5:46 PM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Wildland firefighters are at risk of salary cuts as the clock ticks down on federal funding approved two years ago. If nothing is done within the next two weeks, these first responders across Arizona could lose thousands of dollars a year.

In 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law temporarily increased wildland firefighters’ base pay by $20,000 or 50%, whichever is smaller. It also increased hourly pay from $13 to $15. “They dedicate so much of their lives doing the most dangerous, difficult work that’s available in our country, and they do it because they have a passion,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema said.

But this temporary pay increase could all be reversed in October when funding runs out. Sinema has bipartisan support for her Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, which would protect current pay rates, but it’s all about timing. “The challenge we face is really just moving forward to just finish the budget process in the next two weeks,” she said.

Sinema said the pay increase has helped keep staff on year-round. Paul Oltrogge, Flagstaff’s wildland fire management battalion chief, says this has helped increase fire prevention efforts. However, without proper funding and staffing, “That greatly impacts the safety to the surrounding communities and to the city of Flagstaff, and it limits our ability to not only respond to fire but to mitigate and prepare for wildland fire throughout the rest of the calendar year.”

Sinema said they’re confident they’ll be able to protect firefighter pay, which Oltrogge said is important as they head into their busiest time of year with fire prevention. “If that same workforce or if a backup workforce isn’t going to be available going into the winter, we’ve not been able to mitigate what we’re going to experience in 2024,” Oltrogge said.

He also said they appreciate the senator’s work for their pay, and with Northern Arizona having the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, they hope to see more federal support when it comes to fire mitigation in the future.

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