BOISE, Idaho — Gov. Brad Little on Thursday signed into law a bill authorizing hazard pay for wildland firefighters during the time they're working in dangerous conditions.
House Bill 588 had broad support among Idaho lawmakers, winning unanimous approval Monday in the Senate, and passing in the House by a vote of 49-19-2 on Feb. 25. Now that the governor has signed it, it goes into effect immediately.
The Idaho Department of Lands put forward the legislation. In the bill's statement of purpose, Scott Phillips with the IDL said it will enable Idaho's wildland firefighters to receive competitive compensation on par with their peers employed by federal agencies and and other western states when working on an uncontrolled fire or at an active fire helibase.
Phillips wrote that other jurisdictions have provided an additional 25% of hourly pay for the time firefighters are engaged in fire suppression activities. Now, with the new law, firefighters employed by the Idaho Dept. of Lands will also earn differential pay of up to 25% of their regular hourly rate; for example, a firefighter paid a regular hourly wage of $15 could receive up to $3.75 of additional pay for every hour they're actively engaged in fire suppression work. New IDL firefighters now earn a starting wage of $15 an hour.
"It's important we lead the way in recruiting and keeping well-trained wildland firefighters," Governor Little said at Thursday's signing. "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."
According to the IDL, without the hazard pay, after just two seasons 40% of IDL wildland firefighters do not return to work for the agency. They often have moved on to permanent or higher-paying jobs elsewhere after gaining certifications and experience with the IDL. The agency calls that turnover rate "costly and potentially dangerous."
The IDL also said in a recent survey, 60% of the department's wildland firefighters who said they would not return to work for the IDL in the next season also said that if hazard pay was provided, they would stay on.
"Fighting wildland fire is inherently dangerous work," added Little. "Since the consequence for making a mistake can be serious injury or death, retaining experienced personnel is crucial for keeping all firefighters safe."
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