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Legislation would permanently raise wildland firefighter pay and improve benefits

In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo Cal Fire Battalion Chief Craig Newell carries a hose while battling the North Complex Fire in Plumas National Forest, Calif.
AP Photo/Noah Berger,File
In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo Cal Fire Battalion Chief Craig Newell carries a hose while battling the North Complex Fire in Plumas National Forest, Calif.

A bill introduced in Congress would permanently raise pay and other benefits for wildland firefighters. It comes as temporary increases are set to expire in the coming months.

The bill known as Tim’s Act would increase base pay and raise starting wages for new federal wildland firefighters to at least $20 an hour. It would also provide health care, mental health services and housing to both temporary and permanent workers, and track chronic diseases caused by on-the-job environmental exposure.

For years, firefighting nationwide has been hampered by low retention and recruitment rates caused by low pay, lack of benefits and dangerous working conditions. As climate change continues to drive more extreme wildfires, the stresses on personnel have grown and supporters say an overhaul of the workforce is desperately needed.

"We rely on wildland firefighters more and more to prevent megafires and protect homes and communities," said Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a cosponsor of the bill. "These firefighters deserve fair pay, support for their mental and physical health, and time to recover from their dangerous work. I’m grateful for their bravery, and I’m working to make sure they get the pay and benefits they deserve."

The bill is named for Tim Hart, a Wyoming smokejumper who died in 2021 while fighting a wildfire in New Mexico.

“We owe so much more to our nation’s wildland firefighters,” said Michelle Hart, widow of Tim Hart and firefighter pay advocate. “Named in Tim’s honor, this bill will address the challenges that have plagued this workforce for decades.”

Parts of Tim’s Act were included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act but are set to expire in September, a situation advocates call a “firefighter fiscal cliff.”

The bill is being considered in both the U.S. House and Senate.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.