Capital Clicks

Biden to meet with Western governors about wildfires, vows to raise firefighter pay

By: - June 22, 2021 3:40 pm

A high-intensity prescribed fire consumes trees on the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. (Photo by Roger Ottmar/USDA Forest Service)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he will host a meeting next week of Western governors, Cabinet members and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials “to prepare for heat, drought and wildfires in the West.”

Biden at a White House FEMA briefing also sharply criticized the low salaries paid to federal wildland firefighters.

“There’s an old expression: God made man. Then he made a few firefighters. They have a higher incidence of severe injuries than police officers do. They are incredibly, incredibly brave at what they do …. And I just realized — I didn’t realize this, I admit — that federal firefighters get paid 13 dollars an hour,” Biden said.

“That’s gonna end in my administration,” he said, banging the table for emphasis, according to a pool report. “That’s a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters.”

According to a U.S. Forest Service fact sheet about becoming a federal wildland firefighter, salaries vary but range from about $26,150 at an entry level to $49,765 annually.

Biden made the remarks even as fires already are erupting across the parched West. In Colorado, a plume of smoke from the Sylvan Fire, first reported Sunday, was visible across much of the surrounding region on Tuesday, Colorado Newsline reported.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey has signed off on $100 million in emergency funding after wildfires ravaged rural Arizona this month, the Arizona Mirror said.

In Montana, the Robertson Draw Fire and other blazes already are kicking off what could be a devastating fire season, the Daily Montanan reported.

“The last few days we’ve seen droughts and wildfire in the West,” Biden said, according to the pool report. “We’ve seen tornadoes in Illinois, flooding in the South and Mid-Atlantic. Extreme weather doesn’t confine itself, as you all know, to state lines. These crises require pro-active federal response. It’s just not just the states.”

Biden at the event was flanked by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Homeland Security Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the pool report said.

“We’re going to bring every resource to bear to be prepared, to respond and to help people recover,” Biden said. “It’s a big challenge, and we’re making sure FEMA and other front-line agencies have what they need to continue getting the job done. And I insist on being ready for whatever comes our way. That’s what this is all about.”

He added: “The drought in the West is just astounding … Fires have already started. Flooding. So, we’re in for a tough season but I think we’ve got to be prepared, [have] every resource available.”

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Jane Norman
Jane Norman

As the Washington Bureau Chief of States Newsroom, Jane directs national coverage, managing staff and freelance reporters in the nation’s capital and assigning and editing state-specific daily and enterprise stories. Jane is a veteran of more than three decades in journalism.