By KEITH RIDLER Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Thursday signed into law legislation giving the state’s wildland firefighters hazard pay, a boost expected to keep more firefighters on the job.
The Republican governor signed the measure that provides Idaho Department of Lands wildland firefighters with hazard pay of up to 25% above their hourly wages. The law takes effect immediately. The bill passed the Senate 35-0 and the House 49-19.
“Fighting wildland fire is inherently dangerous work,” Little said in a statement. “Since the consequence for making a mistake can be serious injury or death, retaining experienced personnel is crucial for keeping all firefighters safe.”
Supporters of the pay raises have said they are needed to retain firefighters who leave their state jobs for better-paying firefighting jobs for agencies that offer hazard pay. Without hazard pay, 40% of Idaho wildland firefighters don’t return to work for the Lands Department after just two seasons, the supporters said.
“It’s important we lead the way in recruiting and keeping well-trained wildland firefighters,” Little said. “It protects our communities, access to our forests, and our $2.4 billion forest products industry, a major driver for Idaho’s local and state economies.”
The Idaho Department of Lands is responsible for fire protection of 9,800 square miles (25,000 square kilometers) of state, federal and private land. The state experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons in 2021 with about 225 square miles (580 square kilometers) burned, which was six times the 20-year average. Fighting the wildfires cost the state $75 million.
Little sought to boost the Idaho Department of Lands budget this year due to increasingly destructive wildfires that he has blamed in part on climate change.
“Providing hazard pay is a recognition of the threats our wildland firefighters face while working to suppress wildfires,” said Lands Department Director Dustin Miller. “It is also an important tool that helps IDL become the place where wildland firefighters want to make their permanent home, rather than a just a place to receive training before moving on.”
The hazard pay that firefighters would receive is expected to cost the state up to $390,000 a year.
New Idaho wildland firefighters make $15 an hour.