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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Date: Jan. 28, 2021
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise to speak in support of the ``Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act,'' which I introduced today. Background

Fueled by climate change, the annual Western wildfire season has grown longer and more intense. Where the threat used to peak between August and November, we are now seeing massive wildfire events earlier in the Summer and continuing through the end of the year.

Last year alone, California experienced more than 9,600 fires which burned more than 4.1 million acres, consumed more than 10,000 structures, and claimed 33 lives.

It is imperative that we commit enough manpower and resources to combat the threat that such devastating wildfire seasons pose to life and property.

Unfortunately, some of our most experienced Federal firefighters work so many overtime hours each year that they reach an overtime pay cap and become ineligible for additional overtime compensation. Others are forced to pay back money they have rightfully earned fighting wildfires. Need for Legislation

Federal firefighters from the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are paid on the General Schedule (GS) pay scale based on their seniority and performance. They make a base salary and are paid overtime when they exceed eight hours a day.

However, there is an annual premium pay cap that limits how many overtime hours for which these firefighters can be compensated.

This arbitrary pay cap places an unfair expectation on federal fire personnel to work long hours for less or even no pay, and serves as a dangerous disincentive to respond to more fire incidents, especially later in the fire season. California's worst wildfires often occur late in the fire season, further illustrating the problem we face.

The Forest Service estimates that up to 500 senior-level firefighters either stop participating or do not request pay for hours worked once they reach the pay cap. This has a significant negative impact on federal wildfire response capabilities. What the Legislation Would Do

Our bill would create a statutory waiver for Federal firefighters responding to wildfire emergencies to ensure they receive fair compensation for all overtime hours they work.

This waiver would apply to Forest Service and Department of the Interior personnel engaged in emergency wildland fire suppression activities. Conclusion

For wildland firefighters, working long hours in dangerous conditions is often considered a necessary part of the job. It is crucial that this demanding work be recognized, and that these heroes be appropriately compensated for the critical service that they perform.

I hope my colleagues will join me in support of this bill.

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