16 Mar 2010, 9:56pm
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Legislation aims to cut national wildfire costs by reducing reliance on other agencies

By BEN GOAD and DUG BEGLEY, The Press-Enterprise, March 13, 2010 [here]

Better pay and benefits and increased legal protection for the nation’s federal firefighters are needed to help reign in the increasing costs of battling wildfires across the country, say proponents of a bill making its way through Congress.

Compensating firefighters for all the time they spend at fire scenes and extending year-round health benefits to part-timers would help curb defections from the agency, they say. By strengthening its own ranks, the bill’s supporters say, the Forest Service would have to rely less on costly assistance from local and state fire departments.

Additionally, the legislation seeks to recognize the dangerous nature of firefighters’ work by changing their titles from “forestry technician” or “range technician” to “wildland firefighter.” It also would raise the mandatory retirement age from 57 to 65 in an effort to keep more veterans within the agency.

“If we can retain some of the younger folks that have been hopping ship, and we can keep some of that brain trust around for a few more years, we have a better opportunity to fill in the missing gaps of those federal resources,” said Casey Judd, business manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, which represents federal firefighters nationwide. … [more]

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