Bureau of Land Management sign (Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com)

Fed firefighters: Union wants better pay, support

Last summer, the union that represents the largest portion of federal wildland firefighters shared its appreciation for the Biden administration’s support for significant improvements to pay and conditions for these crucial frontline workers. 

This week, the same union—the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE)—is pressing Congress to get moving on following through on the promise. The union’s leader testified on why it is time for passage of the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act and the Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, both. 

“The time is now to address the systemic problems we have in fighting wildfire,” Randy Erwin, NFFE’s president, testified. “This is not one of those issues that can be studied and contemplated for years on end. We need action, and we need action this year.” 

“As the largest representative of federal wildland firefighters, we know that with each intensifying fire season, firefighters and their families have been forced to endure greater hardships,” Erwin continued. “At the very root of this tribulation is an outdated and under-resourced federal wildland firefighter program.”

Erwin explained that “the impact of below market wages” continues to damage the federal government’s ability to recruit and retain needed fire control personnel—a problem pending legislation, if passed, could address. Another area needing reform, as Erwin discussed, is current the limited availability of mental health assistance for these heroic workers—who so often face traumatizing situations. 

“Over time, firefighters see a lot of troubling things, and sadly, these things impact their mental health,” Erwin said. “Mental health is exacerbated for wildland firefighters by long detachments from their families and their ‘regular lives.’ It is not surprising that many wildland firefighters struggle with depression and addiction.”

“There is also an unacceptably high rate of suicide among wildland firefighters,” Erwin continued. “It is time for a significant investment in mental health and wellness for wildland firefighters, including training and support networks to ensure that everyone has a lifeline to be heard, understood, and embraced.”

2021 Digital Almanac

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