White House to Ask Congress to Increase Pay for Federal Firefighters

President Joe Biden plans to work with Congress to pass legislation that will permanently raise wages for federal firefighters, an administration official said.

Biden is set to announce plans for a temporary pay raise for federal firefighters on Wednesday, raising the minimum wage for firefighters to $15 per hour, before he works with Congress in making a permanent change.

Starting pay for federal firefighters ranges from $11 per hour to $14 per hour and they are eligible for overtime, according to the Interior Department. Biden described the wages as "ridiculously low" during a visit last week to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"That's going to end in my administration," Biden said. "That's a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Biden
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 29: U.S. President Joe Biden is set to announce plans for raising the minimum wage for federal firefighters. Biden talks with reporters while departing the White House June 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Biden also planned to announce other moves to boost U.S. wildfire fighting capacity and prevention efforts as he holds a virtual meeting Wednesday with governors from Western states to discuss what is shaping up to be a torrid wildfire season. In addition, a huge swath of the Northwest is in the midst in one of the worst heat waves in recent memory.

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.

The new approach to firefighter pay was laid out by by an administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to publicly discuss the plan before Biden's announcement.

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 percent 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 percent are full time and 30 percent are seasonal.

The official said the White House also would use the governors' meeting to detail 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.

U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Christopher French testified last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that firefighters need more pay in recognition of the growing workload.

California firefighter
U.S. President Joe Biden is set to announce plans for raising the minimum wage for federal firefighters. With Mount Shasta in the background, a firefighter cools down hot spots on Monday, June 28, 2021, after the Lava Fire swept through the area north of Weed, Calif. Scott Stoddard/Grants Pass Daily Courier via AP