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Idaho wildland firefighter hazard pay plan heads to governor

March 21, 2022 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation giving Idaho wildland firefighters hazard pay when confronting wildfires headed to the governor’s desk on Monday after it was unanimously approved in the state Senate.

State senators voted 35-0 for the bill that would give state-employed wildland firefighters hazard pay of up to 25% above their hourly wages. The bill to increase pay for Idaho Department of Lands wildland firefighters passed the House 49-19 last month.

The spokesperson for Republican Gov. Brad Little’s, Marissa Morrison, declined comment on whether he will sign the bill because the governor has a policy not to comment on pending legislation.

Supporters said the raises are needed to retain firefighters who get training from the state but leave to take better-paying firefighting jobs with other agencies that give hazard pay.

“The result is a revolving door of employees that come and move on to other jobs,” said Republican Sen. Jim Woodward. “At two years, we see 40% turnover.”

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Supporters also said firefighters deserve hazard pay because they face significant risks on the job.

The Idaho Department of Lands is responsible for fire protection on 9,800 square miles (25,000 square kilometers) of state, federal and private land. It had one of its worst wildfire seasons in 2021 with some 225 square miles (580 square kilometers) burned, which was six times the 20-year average. Fighting the wildfires cost the state $75 million.

New Idaho wildland firefighters make $15 an hour. The hazard pay that firefighters would receive is expected to cost the state up to $390,000 a year.

“I will tell you that the fiscal statement on this bill seems very small by the offset to the massive forest fires that we have seen in north Idaho — the value of our timber going up in the air,” said Republican Sen. Mary Souza.

Republican Sen. Van Burtenshaw recalled a fire that was moving 35 mph (56 kph) and injured numerous cattle that couldn’t get out of the way and had to be euthanized.

“Those men and women out there in front of that are risking their lives,” he said. “This is a small amount for what we pay for fire suppression in the state of Idaho.”

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.