Excerpts from an op-ed essay in the Sunday, April 18 edition of The Oregonian, by Ben Elkind (subscription), entitled “More Fires, Less Staffing, and Low Pay Taking Steep Toll on Wildland Firefighters.”
“I would almost do it for free. The feeling of complete focus and calm after jumping out of the airplane is hard to find elsewhere these days. But the chaos from life and the fire below are making me rethink my career, and that’s a big problem for Oregonians.
“I’ve been a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service for eight years and worked on the Mt. Hood Hotshot Fire Crew before that. I grew up in Oregon and can’t stand to see the wildfires ravaging our public lands and communities, while the smoke threatens our public health.”
“As the cost of living and home prices rise in the west, the Forest Service can no longer retain its employees when starting pay is $13.45 an hour. At the Lincoln City McDonald’s, just west of Otis, another community nearly erased from the map by wildfires, a sign in the window advertised starting pay is $15 an hour. My wife joked that I should apply there for more job security. She’s right. A career with McDonald’s is currently more promising than federal wildland firefighting.
“I’m an incident commander with advanced qualifications, supervising dozens of resources and fire crews on fires, yet I’ve never earned more than $20 an hour in my 14 years as a professional wildland firefighter. I make decisions that can cost millions of dollars with lives hanging in the balance, yet I am paid more like a teenager working a summer job than a highly experienced professional.”
Elkind makes some good points, but overtime and hazard pay can make for a big boost in pay.