US

Joe Biden raises firefighters minimum wages to $15

President Joe Biden on Wednesday temporarily raised pay for federal firefighters to ensure that none are making less than $15 per hour.

He announced the pay boost – and other moves to fight wildfires – during a virtual meetings with governors from Western states.

‘Come on man, that’s unacceptable to me,’ Biden said of firefighters pay. 

And he said there will be more to come.

‘But a one time boost is not enough, these courageous women and men take an incredible risk of running toward the fire, and they deserve to be paid and paid good wages,’ he added.

He told governors they would be meeting annually to discuss the threat of wildfires.  

‘The threat of western fires this year is as severe as it’s ever been,’ Biden said. ‘We can’t cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires and our supporting our firefighters, and this briefing is going to be an annual event.’ 

President Joe Biden temporarily raised pay for federal firefighters to ensure that none are making less than $15 per hour

President Biden and some of his Cabinet secretaries held a meeting with Western governors to talk about the threat of wild fires

President Biden and some of his Cabinet secretaries held a meeting with Western governors to talk about the threat of wild fires

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm next to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as he arrives for a meeting with western governors

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm next to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as he arrives for a meeting with western governors

Wednesday’s virtual meeting, which also included cabinet officials, is designed to show that the White House is treating wildfires – which have grown by at least 100 incidents each year since 2015 – are as much of a national emergency as hurricanes, a senior administration official said on Tuesday. 

‘We’re playing catch up. This is an area that has been under-resourced. But that’s going to change,’ Biden said.  

Extreme heat in Western and Northwestern states have accelerated drought conditions and intensified the risks of wildfires.

The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for nearly the entire Pacific Northwest, northern Great Basin and parts of California and Nevada. 

More than 58.4 million people live in areas affected by the drought, according to the US Drought Monitor, and a record 49.7% of the west is now in the highest categories of ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional’ drought levels. 

Biden has expressed dismay at the starting pay for federal firefighters. New federal firefighters typically make $11 per hour to $14 per hour and they are overtime eligible, according to the Interior Department.

‘That’s going to end in my administration,’ Biden said during a visit last week to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a briefing on natural disaster prevention efforts. ‘That’s a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters.’

Western states have been parched by severe drought and record heat that has burned more than 2,000 square miles (5,300 square kilometers) this year. That´s ahead of the pace in 2020, which saw a near-record 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) burned as well as more than 17,000 homes and other structures destroyed. 

A fire prevention crew hauls away sections of a tree they cut down near Redwood Estates, Calif., in 2019

A fire prevention crew hauls away sections of a tree they cut down near Redwood Estates, Calif., in 2019

NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire in 2019

NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire in 2019

Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula, Calif., in 2019

Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula, Calif., in 2019

Firefighters battle a fire, as a wind driven wildfire continues to burn in Canyon Country north of Los Angeles in 2019

Firefighters battle a fire, as a wind driven wildfire continues to burn in Canyon Country north of Los Angeles in 2019

The pay raise will come in the form of retention incentives and by providing additional bonuses to those working on the front lines. More experienced permanent firefighters could also be eligible for a 10% retention incentive. Temporary firefighters will be eligible to receive some incentive pay under the plan.

The U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department combined to employ about 15,000 firefighters. Roughly 70% are full time and 30% are seasonal.

The meeting with governors also detailed plans to extend seasonal hiring of firefighters, hire additional firefighters and add surge capacity by training and equipping more federal employees and military personnel to support wildland fire fighting efforts.

U.S. wildfire managers had been considering establishing more full-time firefighting crews to deal with what has become increasingly a year-round problem in the West and pushing to make the jobs more attractive by increasing pay and benefits.

This year’s wildfire season may serve as an ominous backdrop as Biden and Democrats seek billions of dollars from Congress to blunt climate change, offering real-time examples of the need for more taxpayer investment.

It will also put pressure on the large number of lawmakers from both parties from western states like California, Arizona and New Mexico to shed partisan politics and pay for more firefighters and increased mitigation efforts.


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