MISSOULA – Experienced wildland firefighters tell Sen. Steve Daines they never expected to “get rich” by “sleeping in the dirt” and putting their lives at risk.
But they urge Montana’s junior senator to do whatever he can to bring changes that would convince more young men and women to stick with firefighting as a career and help those who are seriously injured protecting homes and forests.
Those comments came Friday morning as Daines hosted a meeting with firefighters at Neptune Aviation in Missoula. The senator is about to introduce legislation that would seek to change the federal job classification for fire teams from “Forest Technicians” back to firefighters, and make other changes in how they are paid.
The firefighters, who came from Smokejumper and Hot Shot crews around Western Montana, said the changes are needed to help retain younger firefighters and convince them to take federal positions, instead of leaving for higher paying jobs in the private sector. That includes changing rules which limit firefighters to only being paid for six months a year and forcing many to do unpaid training or work in the “shoulder seasons” on fire prevention projects.
Daines is confident there’s growing bipartisan support for the changes.
“These wildland firefighters, they’re not Republicans and Democrats,” Daines said. “They’re great Americans. They really don’t care about the partisan bickering. They want to get something done. And they’re risking their lives for us. They’re protecting us. It’s time we protect them.”
Daines is getting support from across the aisle for the two bills, which will be cosponsored by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantrell of Washington.
-Reported by Dennis Bragg/MTN News