Federal firefighters in Colorado and the rest of the country will see more money on their next paycheck after two federal agencies raised theirs to $15 an hour.
The Department of the Interior and the US Forest Service announced Tuesday that they have implemented a minimum wage increase at the request of President Joe Biden.
About 11,300 USFS firefighters and 3,500 internal firefighters — 75% of all federal firefighters — were earning less than $15 an hour prior to this week. The Department of the Interior said the lowest-paid Colorado firefighters previously made $13.45 an hour.
Next week’s payroll will reflect the increase, which will be retroactive to June 30, so firefighters will be compensated if they earn less than $15 an hour in July and August. There will also be one-time bonuses for most firefighters.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult (for federal agencies) to compete with state agencies in Colorado to retain and recruit wildfirefighters” due to lower federal wages, said Jonathon Golden, legislative director of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“We are in a place where we only welcome an extra cent because all in all it counts,” he said. “But will $15 an hour keep people where they are when state agencies in Colorado or California, Oregon and Washington invest in their workforce? Probably not.”
Golden, who has worked for 11 years as a federal firefighter, said firefighters can double or triple their salaries by working for state agencies in the West rather than the federal government. The benefits are much better in state agencies as well.
“What we’re seeing now is the first step to start addressing that,” he said.