Retaining wildland firefighters helps keep communities safeTuesday February 22, 2022
(Boise) – Idaho’s wildland firefighters are a step closer to receiving competitive compensation on par with their federal peers and other western states.
Idaho’s Department of Lands (IDL) has become a defacto training ground for wildland firefighters and faces extreme challenges recruiting and retaining qualified personnel. The agency’s wildland firefighters engage in highly dangerous work for low pay protecting 6.2 million acres of private, state and federal land. Most are hired as temporary, seasonal employees and do not receive benefits.
After just two seasons 40% of IDL wildland firefighters do not return to work for the agency. This high turnover rate, given training requirements, is costly. Those seeking careers in fire often use IDL to obtain certifications and experience, then go on to obtain permanent or higher paying jobs elsewhere.
Surrounding states and the federal government offer higher wages and benefits, including firefighter hazard differential pay equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of hourly rates while engaged in dangerous fire suppression activities.
If there is a wildfire on private land protected by IDL, federal firefighters work shoulder to shoulder with IDL firefighters. The state is required to pay hazard pay to the federal firefighter but is not allowed to pay it to its own. When IDL firefighters are dispatched to states that do provide hazard pay, they cannot receive this additional compensation due to Idaho’s laws.
HB588, a bill sponsored by Rep. Sage Dixon, will help level the playing field, allowing Idaho wildland firefighters to receive the same hazard pay benefit of those they work next to on a wildfire. In a recent survey 60% of IDL’s wildland firefighters who indicated they would not return to work for the agency in the next season reported that if hazard pay was provided, they would stay on with IDL.
Given the extreme challenges state agencies face when recruiting and retaining employees in all types of work fields, Representative Dixon recognizes the importance of hiring and keeping trained wildland firefighters and is sponsoring the bill.
“Having enough experienced wildland firefighters in place and at the ready is vital to protecting our communities,” said Representative Dixon. “It also protects the $2.4 billion dollar forest products industry that is important to our local and state economies.”
Industry is supportive of the legislation.
“We want to thank Representative Dixon for his leadership and for carrying this bill,” Associated Logging Contractors Executive Director Shawn Keough said. “If IDL can’t recruit and keep wildland firefighters, wildfires can threaten communities, shut down access to our forests and shuts down our forest operations which also negatively impacts our communities when we can’t do our jobs and employees can’t support their families.”
The bill recently cleared the House Commerce and Human Resources committee unanimously with a coveted do-pass recommendation. If the legislation becomes law, Idaho wildland firefighters will receive hazard pay when they are working on an uncontrolled fire or at an active fire helibase.
Policy and Communications Chief