Firefighter morale down as wildfire season expands

Rush Hour

(NewsNation) — As Western regions of the United States enter their dry season, experts are, again, preparing for a severe fire season with predictions of scorching heat and extremely dry conditions  — conditions prime for catastrophic wildfires.

This time, however, according to current and former firefighters, morale within the Forest Service has plummeted to an all-time low. 

“We’re just really seeing significant fire seasons increasing year after year,” Kelly Martin said during NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” Tuesday.

Martin is the president of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters — a committee dedicated to promoting and advocating for Federal Wildland Fire personnel.

“Imagine, here we are in June and our firefighters have to go another 12 to 14 weeks in back-to-back fire seasons, so this is causing significant morale issues with our Wildland firefighters,” Martin said.

According to U.S. Forest Service data obtained by BuzzFeed News, California currently has significant shortages of wildland firefighters, as the state still has about 1,200 full-time openings after its annual spring hiring event. 

Data further shows that California’s federal wildland fighting force is just 65% to 70% staffed, which, with working at a minimum wage starting at $15 an hour and doing arduous manual labor with an already hazardous working environment factored in, is not surprising.

Martin said while her organization’s efforts to increase pay to $15 was successful, inflation and other economic issues calls for an additional 50% on top of what they’re making.

“Right now, the pay stipend is not affecting their salary at all and they’re having to pay an increase in housing and rent of at least 25% in many areas over last year, Martin said. “So we have significant challenges ahead of us both with pay and housing for our firefighters.”

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