As drought and high temperatures allow wildfires to spread across the western United States, NFFE-IAM Federal District 1 wildland firefighters are being mobilized to protect lives, property and infrastructure.
More than 2 million acres have burned so far this year, compared with about 1.6 million by this time last year.
Warner Vanderheuel, a wildland firefighter and president of NFFE-IAM Local 2086, says that fire seasons have progressively started earlier and ended later since he began his U.S. Forest Service career in 2000. This year has been no different.
“Drought areas have become much larger and field conditions more volatile,” said Vanderheuel, a NFFE-IAM Forest Service Council member who will soon go to fight fire in Montana and Idaho. “It’s demanding work, but the people I work with and the mission keep me going.”
As wildland firefighters continue to put their lives on the line, NFFE-IAM has been campaigning for improvements to wildland firefighter pay, benefits and work-life balance. Many wildland firefighters have reported feeling that it is getting difficult to justify staying in this career while supporting a family.
The Biden administration recently announced pay incentives for wildland firefighters, a critical first step toward addressing the growing wildfire threat.
NFFE-IAM is calling for additional measures, including:
“It is a scary situation our members fighting wildfire are in right now,” said NFFE-IAM National President and Directing Business Representative Randy Erwin. “There are numerous fires occurring right now in the Western U.S., and we simply do not have enough boots on the ground to contain them. NFFE-IAM members are working around the clock to contain these fires, but they do not have the resources they need. We are calling on the White House and Congress to fix these problems. We need to get this wildfire problem under control. That means more boots on the ground and better pay and benefits for wildland firefighters, among other things. These changes need to happen now.”
The full resources of the IAM will be deployed to help wildland firefighters, said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr.
“Every year, countless lives are saved by the heroic efforts of our NFFE-IAM federal firefighters,” said Martinez. “It is time we give them the resources they need to complete their mission and know they will go home safe to their families. The IAM sends our profound thanks to these heroes and pledge to stand beside them every step of the way.”