A bill sitting on the Governor’s desk would pay state firefighters in Idaho hazard pay when they are battling wildfires. It would add an additional 25 percent of their hourly wage to their earnings when they are assigned to a fire.
The starting pay for fire personnel with the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) is $12.55 an hour, lower than what they could receive working at some fast food restaurants.
The legislation passed the House with a vote of 49 to 19, but was went through the senate 35-0.
“What this does is it recognizes that wildland firefighting is a very dangerous profession,” said the Fire Management Chief for the IDL in Coeur d’Alene, Josh Harvey. “There’s all sorts of things in that wildland fire environment that can kill an individual or seriously injure them.” Harvey, a born and raised Idahoan, has been a wildland firefighter since graduating high school. He has spent much time working shoulder to shoulder with interagency partners. He’s also been in charge of other federal or state firefighters who, while doing the same job, were compensated at a higher rate because they received hazard pay. For the agency, Harvey said offering hazard pay is critical to retain some of the employees who get lured away by other agencies offering a higher rate of pay.
The firefighters have a work schedule of 40 hours per week, but are expected to work as long as necessary while at a fire, and can travel to other states on two-week assignments.
In a recent survey, 60% of IDL’s wildland firefighters who indicated they would not return to work for the agency next season said that if hazard pay was provided, they would stay on with IDL.
The bill specifies that firefighters would only be eligible for hazard pay for the time they are actually on that incident, which may be only an hour or two for a small fire. This differs from the federal policy, where personnel are paid hazard pay for the entire shift.