The Infrastructure Law was signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15, 2021.
According to whitehouse.gov, the Infrastructure Bill is made to “rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.”
One of the many parts of the bill is a 5-year plan and a $1.5 billion budget that will be used by the Department for wildland fire.
The $1.5 billion is going towards workforce reform and increased preparedness for wildfires.
The bill is intended to boost morale by offering a more liveable wage, bolsters mental health programs, and minimizes exposure to environmental hazards. These changes are being made in an attempt to keep and aquire more wildland firefighters over the next 5 years.
The Need for More Wildland Firefighters
Wildfire season is getting harder, longer, and more unpredictable, there is a growing need for more wildland firefighters every season.
U.S. wildfire agencies are considering shifting to more full-time firefighting crews to deal with what has become a year-round wildfire season and making the jobs more attractive by increasing pay and benefits. With the Infrastrucuture Law, this may become more of a possibility.
According to whitehouse.gov, “With fire seasons turning into fire years, it is imperative to have a year-round workforce that is available to respond at any time, that is supported and equitably compensated, and is available to undertake preventive actions like hazardous fuels management treatments during periods of low fire activity.”
The bill requires wildland firefighters to receive at least a $20,000 base salary, this pay raise will impact nearly 70,000 federal employees across all agencies. The minimum pay in all 50 states is now atleast $20 per hour with the opportunity for overtime.
A Focus on Mental Health
Being a wildland firefighter comes with many challenges, from long hours, high temperatures, and constant physical strain. Just this last fire season, 7.6 million acres burned across the US.
Wildland firefighting can be the cause of both physical and mental strain.
The Infrastructure Bill hopes to establish mitigation strategies for firefighters’ mental health.
The law provides $125 million over 5 years for other activities that will increase preparedness to respond to wildland fire.
Wildland preparedness includes training for firefighters, more efficient fire equipment, and better wildfire detection and monitoring.
Is it enough? This bill offers an increase in pay wages, a focus on mental health, to help eliminate environmental hazards, and better prepare for fire season. We will see it play out more this fire season.