Union: Federal firefighters understaffed due to low wages

California

STANISLAUS COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) – As California heads into wildfire season, a Central Valley lawmaker is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to hire more firefighters.

“We’re short in all fire staff right now,” explained David Alicea, the vice president of the National Federation of Federal Employees Union in California. “Job burnout is terrible. Long hours. Short pay.”

Alicea says first-year firefighters in the Los Angeles area start around $15.30 an hour and even less upstate.

“You could be looking at as much as $2 an hour less for Northern California,” Alicea told FOX40.

Congressman Josh Harder, D-Modesto, says those numbers are concerning.

“We have a desperately understaffed Forest Service. One-third of our hotshot fire crews are understaffed,” Harder said. “It’s unforgivable that our federal firefighters are being paid less than minimum wage here in California.”

In the next few months, Harders says he’s working on introducing legislation that will make the U.S. Forest Service budget for better pay.

“One simple thing that we should be doing is paying folks for hazard pay and overtime,” Harder said.

A spokesperson for the Forest Service declined to do an interview but sent FOX40 the following statement:

All Californians can be assured that the USDA Forest Service, other federal agencies, tribal, state and local partners stand together, ready to respond to wildfire during the 2021 fire year. We also need Californians to do their part in creating defensible space around their homes, be prepared to evacuate when informed by local officials, and follow evacuation orders to ensure your safety and the safety of first responders. We will continue our focus on aggressive initial attack where we can be most successful in protecting life and property, while adequately assessing risk for responders. Our goal is safe and rapid containment to minimize the number of large fires during the year. Additionally, we will respond to every wildfire with the safety of the public and our firefighters as our highest priority.

USDA Forest Service

Harder says there is a lot of money that goes towards clean up after a wildfire and adds that he will also ask the Forest Service to set money aside to go towards prevention.

To view the different levels of pay for entry-level positions within the Forest Service, which are designated as GS-3 and GS-4 category positions, click or tap here.

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