Washington, D.C. — Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Chair of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, and Colorado U.S. Representative Joe Neguse introduced bicameral legislation to overhaul federal wildland firefighter pay and benefits – bolstering recruitment, retention, and well-being. The legislation, the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Pay Parity and Classification Act (Tim’s Act), is named in honor of Tim Hart, a brave smokejumper from Cody, Wyoming, who tragically lost his life on May 24, 2021, while battling the Eicks Fire in New Mexico.
“As climate change fuels increasingly severe fires in Colorado, we rely on wildland firefighters more and more to prevent megafires and protect homes and communities. These firefighters deserve fair pay, support for their mental and physical health, and time to recover from their dangerous work,” said Bennet. “I’m grateful for their bravery, and I’m working to make sure they get the pay and benefits they deserve.”
“We no longer have wildfire seasons – we have wildfire years, and our federal wildland firefighting crews bear the heavy burden every day of keeping us safe. Our federal firefighters sacrifice so much, and they deserve fair pay, benefits, and the resources necessary to do their jobs. We must ensure they are paid a wage that reflects the value of their work,” said Neguse. “I will continue to partner with my colleagues and the administration to make certain our firefighters have the support they need, and work to enact Tim’s Act into law.”
Tim’s Act would increase base pay, improve deployment pay, support enhanced pay management oversight, and ensure firefighters receive paid rest and recuperation leave. Tim's Act will also address wildland firefighter mental and physical health, and provide housing, retirement and tuition assistance benefits.
Specifically, the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act would:
- Increase base pay by establishing pay rates at all grade levels for federal wildland firefighters;
- Raise starting wages for new federal wildland firefighters to at least $20 an hour;
- Ensure those deployed to specific wildfires receive pay for all hours of work by providing a new form of premium pay and increasing standby premium pay;
- Provide health care and mental health services to temporary and permanent wildland firefighters, including:
- Creating a national “Federal Wildland Firefighter Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Database” to track chronic disease caused by on-the-job environmental exposure throughout the lives of current and past wildland firefighters,
- Launching a mental health awareness campaign, a mental health education and training program, and an extensive peer-to-peer mental health support network for wildland firefighters and immediate family, and
- Allowing periods of paid rest and recuperation leave following the completion of service during certain wildland fire activities.
- Provide housing stipends for all firefighters on duty more than 50 miles from their primary residence;
- Provide tuition assistance for all permanent federal employees in the wildland firefighter classification; and
- Allow firefighters to credit temporary years of service to retirement and include premium pay in the calculation of retirement pay.
“From the physical and emotional toll to the lack of adequate housing and pay, 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, and in memory of the work and protections that he and other wildland firefighters provided to our communities, this bill will address the challenges that have plagued this workforce for decades. Because of Tim's Act, Wildland Firefighters will finally be compensated for the work they undertake on behalf of millions of Americans.”
“The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) fully supports the Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, also known as Tim’s Act. As fire seasons have developed into increasingly dangerous year-round emergencies, it is critical that federal wildland firefighters have the resources they need to protect our country from this crisis. Due to the long hours away from family and traumatic nature of the duties that wildland firefighters undertake, combined with poor pay, benefits, and working conditions, the workforce faces severe recruitment and retention challenges. We must support these brave public servants with better pay, housing, health care, and mental health services. This legislation provides long overdue programs and resources that significantly improve the lives of wildland firefighters and their families. Congress must pass Tim’s Act to ensure we have an adequate workforce to combat the wildfire crisis,” said Matthew Dorsey, Communications Director for NFFE.
“The Grassroots Wildland Firefighters fully support the Tim Hart Classification and Pay Parity Act. It provides needed reforms and is the essential foundation to ensure our federal fire organizations are prepared to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century,” said Luke Mayfield, President of the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.
In 2021, President Biden enacted elements of Tim’s Act through the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created a new classification series specifically for wildland firefighters, temporarily increased pay, and established new support systems for firefighters through mental health services.
Additional provisions, such as presumptive health coverage and ensuring that federal firefighters qualify for full retirement benefits if they are injured on the job, were also signed into law by President Biden in 2022. While the new occupational series and temporary pay raises are a significant step forward, Bennet and Neguse believe Congress must provide federal firefighters with a permanent increase in wages while also ensuring that federal benefits are closer to parity with those received by state, county, and municipal firefighters.