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Washington, D.C. – Ahead of the summer wildfire season, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) urged the administration to prioritize firefighter pay increases and mental health support today at a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources hearing.
Cortez Masto supported a temporary pay increase for over 16,000 federal wildland firefighters in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and she has pushed to make these pay pay raises permanent, including for hotshot crews, smokejumpers, and other highly-skilled wildland firefighters.
Ms. Jaelith Hall-Rivera, Deputy Chief of State, Private, and Tribal Forestry at the U.S. Forest Service responded that it would be catastrophic if these funds run out, noting they could lose as much as 50% of their workforce.
Senator Cortez Masto went on to raise concerns from local firefighters in Nevada: “I also have concerns hearing from my firefighters. Particularly Todd Ingalsbee, a fellow Nevadan and President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada, about the concerns about the physical and mental health that multiple deployments have on our firefighters. What does that mean, and is that having an impact of what we are seeing in the loss of so many firefighters?”
Mr. Jeffrey Rupert, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire, affirmed these concerns, stating, “Firefighters are at an elevated and greater risk of PTSD and anxiety as a result of those repeated deployments and long hours.” He stressed the importance of both increasing firefighter pay and supporting workforce reforms that grow capacity, support mental health services, and provide better housing options for firefighters.
Senator Cortez Masto’s comprehensive Western Wildfire Support Act addresses many of these concerns by funding state-of-the-art firefighting equipment, creating new training programs to support firefighters professional development and mental wellbeing, and funding recovery efforts for communities impacted by wild and rangeland fires. She’s prioritized efforts to provide federal agencies with the resources they need to hire and retain vital firefighters year round and secured billions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support wildfire risk reduction, including $8 billion for wildfire prevention, suppression, and restoration activities and $10 million for wildfire detection equipment.