President Biden announced his administration will make new investments in federal firefighting personnel, providing retention incentives and raising pay to ensure firefighters are making at least $15 an hour, as he and western governors met to discuss the 2021 wildfire season.
The president, hosting a wildfire preparedness meeting with members of his Cabinet, the private sector, and governors from Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, New Mexico, California, Colorado, and Nevada, discussed a working partnership to “strengthen prevention, preparedness and response efforts” for the wildfire season ahead.
“We can’t cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires,” the president said Wednesday. “This year, there are 36 [fires] that are unconfined, burning already… and it’s only June.”
“Today, we’re announcing what I still think is not enough,” Biden continued. “This year, we’re going to provide retention incentives that is going to ensure our firefighters are making at least $15 an hour..and additional 10% bonuses for those working on the front lines.”
He added: “But a one time boost is not enough–these courageous women and men take an incredible risk of running toward a fire, and they deserve to be paid, and paid good wages.”
A senior administration official said the administration will also extend seasonal hiring of firefighters, hire additional firefighters, and add to surge capacity by training more federal employees and military personnel to be ready to “quickly support” wildfires when they happen.
“The goal here this year, because we have had a very short runway in getting prepared, has been to find ways to address what we learned which is that there is this challenge with respect to both recruitment and retention of firefighters that we need across the nation,” an administration official explained. “So we’re doing everything we can within the confines of this cycle to enhance pay and encourage people to both join firefighting and be retained as firefighters in the force.”
The official added: “Going forward, we’re going to work on additional measures with Congress to move beyond the short term solutions to address longer term needs with respect to compensation and benefits and work life balance reforms for federal wildlife land firefighters.”
Senior administration officials, in previewing the president’s meeting, said he would ask participants what additional resources they need and what actions can be taken “immediately” to protect communities, improve emergency preparedness and the “growing wildfire threats,” which officials say are “being fueled by climate change and the devastating intersection of severe drought and extreme heat that is impacting western communities.”
“Fire seasons are becoming more of a year round mission,” the official added, saying they are “accelerating plans to transition to a more permanent firefighting workforce” and will increase wildfire response capabilities.
Biden Administration officials also said they are preparing for the potential impacts that the power grid may face as a result of wildfire, and working to improve emergency capabilities to respond if there is a grid or electrical equipment failure. Officials said the administration will use satellites and emerging technologies to improve early detection efforts.
“That means providing actionable information for the American people in real time,” the official explained.
The administration is developing new app maps and resources so that individuals in affected communities can check their phones and get more information to “stay safe.”
“We are ready to deliver assistance to people in times of urgent need,” the official added. “Since 2015 The United States has experienced on average roughly 100 more large wildfires every year than the year before, and this wildfire season is already outpacing last season in terms of the number of large fires today.”
The official said that President Biden “strongly believes that it’s time the federal government stopped underinvesting in prevention and mitigation efforts, and that we start investing in our response capabilities, and our firefighting personnel so that we can better protect the people of this country.”
The official said the president tasked the Homeland Security team to take actions to respond to wildfires this year and make sure they are mitigated before they occur.
“To save lives is our mission,” the official said.
Meanwhile, so far this season, The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for nearly the entire Pacific Northwest, northern Great Basin and parts of California and Nevada.
The agency warned of the threat of heat-related health risks and elevated fire concerns, urging people to stay indoors, hydrate and check on vulnerable family, friends and neighbors.
Fox News’ Ben Florance contributed to this report.