Emergency responders are an interesting lot. As a culture we recognize and value those who rush toward an emergency while others flee to safety. They work or volunteer as firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical workers, dispatchers and in a variety of support positions. Chances are good that you know an emergency responder. You might even serve in that capacity yourself.
What comes to mind when you think of an emergency responder? “Service” and “sacrifice” may rise to the top. Service is a value woven into the very fabric of the USDA Forest Service. And many of the agency’s fire personnel sacrifice financial stability and time with their families because entry-level firefighter pay hasn’t historically matched their state and private sector counterparts.
In June 2021, President Biden increased firefighter pay to ensure no front-line firefighter was paid less than $15 an hour, delivering more than $24 million in additional pay to 11,300 Forest Service firefighters through incentives, awards, and bonuses.
The following year, thanks to pay provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, more than 12,000 Forest Service firefighters received a pay supplement equal to an extra $20,000 per year or 50% of their base pay, whichever was less.
To date, nearly $230 million has reached firefighters’ pockets through these temporary measures. The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to work on solutions for a permanent, competitive, and equitable pay structure, along with a support system that will address the many challenges that have plagued its wildland firefighter workforce for decades.
Service, Sacrifice and Hardship
Four wildland fire responders share their stories of service, sacrifice and hardship and how the temporary pay supplements have positively impacted their lives. Their stories represent the thousands of outstanding men and women that serve in a variety of emergency responder capacities across the Forest Service.
In recognition of Public Service Recognition Week, we invite you to read their stories to understand their struggles better and see how the pay supplement has helped them and their families continue to serve as the USDA works to find a permanent solution to the challenges they face.