Homelessness, Food Stamps, Extreme Overtime: Wildland Firefighters Struggle to Stay on the Job

County of Santa Barbara Fire Departement firefighters extinguish a roadside fire off the U.S. 101 highway Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Goleta, Calif. A wildfire raging through Southern California coastal mountains threatened ranches and rural homes and kept a major highway shut down Wednesday as the fire-scarred state faced a new round of dry winds that raise risk of flames. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Wildland firefighters are speaking out about the low pay, lack of housing and poor benefits that go with their hazardous jobs. With more than 18,000 firefighters deployed to the western United States this year to fight the ever-increasing numbers of wildfires, the issue is gaining attention – though solutions are not yet appearing.

The Guardian newspaper highlighted the plight of the itinerant firefighters this week, noting that US Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., is promoting the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, which he introduced with representatives Katie- Porter, D-Calif., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

The Act is named for firefighter Tim Hart who died in 2021 from injuries suffered while parachuting into a fire zone. It would increase pay and benefits to firefighters deployed more than 50 miles from their homes – an effort to offset some of the costs incurred during wildfire season. Many wildland firefighters live in their vehicles or camp out, many qualify for food stamps and many only make the job worthwhile by working multiple overtime shifts.

“I love this job and the people I work with,” said firefighter Luke Meyer. “But is it worth living like this, with so much uncertainty?” After four years fighting wildland fires, Meyer decided the answer was no. His last day on the job was in August 2021. For more, visit the Guardian.

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