When a federal firefighter is deployed, they will typically be away from their homes and/or families for a minimum of 14 days. During that time they will face harsh conditions, high risk of serious injury or death, and exhausting 16-hour work days. Physical and mental stress is high among firefighters, who are constantly exposed to smoke and other environmental hazards, along with sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Despite working an incredibly vital and difficult job, entry-level firefighters for the Forest Service only make $13.75 an hour. In his Op-Ed, smokejumper Bill Elkind wrote that in his 14 years of service he’d never made over $20 an hour.
This low wage for such a high-skill job has led to a shortage of federal firefighters. As a result, Forest Service resources are stretched incredibly thin during a time of increased fire danger.
Firefighter advocates like Grassroots Wildland Firefighters have asked for a 50% increase to the starting wage — or about $20 an hour — in addition to mental health measures and proper job classification. In June, the Biden administration, among other things, raised the starting wage to $15.