CNN has joined the chorus of news outlets covering the deteriorating condition of federal wildland firefighting teams. A lengthy article published today describes the pay gap between federal crews and personnel in other jurisdictions as “mind-boggling.”
CNN reporters interviewed several current and former federal wildland firefighters. Aaron Humphrey, known as “Hump,” resigned after 25 years, leaving the post of superintendent of the Eldorado Hotshots, becoming “just the last mentally fried, underpaid hotshot veteran to leave, at a time when the fires forests in California are at their worst. “
I needed to be home with my family, âHump told CNN. âThe level of stress I brought home (due to massive fires) – I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. “
Hump, a married father with three children – ages 12, 10 and 8 – now works for Pacific Gas and Electric, as the head of the utility’s security infrastructure protection team.
Hump ââsays he’s paid at least $ 40,000 more per year than he previously earned as a hotshot supervisor. The money comes with the peace of mind, as he now attends all of his children’s events, even a flag football coach.
CNN also interviewed El Dorado Hotshots captain DJ McIlhargie.
âI have five irons in the fire right now,â McIlhargie told CNN. âI’m looking for something that will work better for my family. And my wife knows I’m sick of waiting for the Forest Service to give me a salary that matches what other departments pay.
Father of two boys aged 7 and 10, McIlhargie lives an hour from Sacramento. He described feeling “devastated” and “frustrated” while battling the recent spate of super fires.
McIlhargie, 39, says there are simply not enough firefighters to deal with massive fires such as the ones that ravaged northern California last year.
The article also states that â15 California interagency crews do not have enough members to activate as a full-fledged firefighting unit. CNN has obtained a document from the CIHC which confirms this number.
Four Senators, Dianne Feinstein, Alex Padilla, Kyrsten Sinema and Steve Daines, wrote a letter asking a subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee to include language in its Fiscal Year 2022 fundraising bill directing the Bureau to personnel management to implement a plan to raise federal firefighters. Pay. They ask that the following wording be included in the bill:
“The director of the Bureau of Personnel Management … no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, submit to Congress a plan to establish comparable rates of pay payable to forest firefighters employed by the federal government, by compared to the basic rate of pay payable for similar work by wildland firefighters employed by state and local governments in each jurisdiction identified by the Ministries of Interior and Agricultureâ¦ No later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, fully implement any regulations or OPM necessary changes authorized to establish the new job classification and qualification standards â for employees across the federal government, whose job responsibilities involve combating forest fires; which should reflect the comparable base pay rates established in the submitted plan.
When CNN, NBC, LA Times and USA Today point out that the compensation structure for federal wildland firefighters is far from what it should be, there may be an issue that needs to be addressed. Senators write letters and pose softball questions to forest service officials testifying in hearings, but nothing is being done to improve the work environment for federal wildland firefighters.
They need a new set of Wildland Firefighter jobs with pay commensurate with those of agencies and organizations that poach trained and experienced employees of federal land management agencies.