Unsung heroic firefighters may lose pay amid government shutdown

Wildland firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service work in the most remote regions of the country battling flames, but not as visible as Cal Fire crews in the public eye.

"They see a lot of red trucks on the news and for us that work in the forest service, there's also green ones in the mountains, but you don't see us, because we're hidden in the trees," said Jacob Kennedy, one of the more than 11,000 federal firefighters nationwide who play a critical role in keeping wildland fires under control.

"There's smoke jumpers, they jump out of airplanes to get to remote areas of fire. There's hot shot crews which is made up of 25 personnel that walk into a fire, there's engine modules…" said Steven Gutierrez, a spokesman for the National Federation of Federal Employees. 

NFFE represents federal firefighters and says they are facing a big political battle over their paychecks. 

"Most of the public doesn't know this, but before President Biden came into place, most of the wildland firefighters got paid less than $15 an hour," said Gutierrez.

Biden issued an executive order bumping their pay up to $15 an hour.

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But so far, Congress has not passed a bipartisan Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, that would make temporary pay increases permanent. 

The funding runs out on Sept. 30, just as a potential government shutdown threatens to force firefighters to work without pay.

"For a lot of wildland firefighters right now, they're living paycheck to paycheck," Gutierrez continued.

Union leaders have been rallying in Washington, D.C. urging House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to pass the bill before any shutdown. 

On Thursday, they met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who supported the bill.

"They have equal amounts of Republicans and Democrats. We have that support, now we just need to get it across the line," Gutierrez said.

Some federal firefighters say if the Paycheck Protection Act does not pass they could lose up to $1,500 a month, prompting some to leave the Forest Service altogether for better-paying jobs.