WASHINGTON — The wages earned by those responsible for controlling the nation's deadliest wildfires are "ridiculously low" President Joe Biden said Tuesday.
Before a meeting with homeland security and federal emergency management officials, the president told reporters he promised to end the $13 an hour salary paid to federal firefighters.
"I just realized - I didn't realize this, I have to admit - that federal firefighters get paid $13 an hour. That's going to end in my administration. That's a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters," Biden said.
Biden reportedly banged the table and said "that's ridiculous" when he learned of the salary, according to a pool report.
Base starting pay for a federal firefighters — those who fight wildland fires on federal land — relies on the federal General Schedule payscale. An entry level Wildland Firefighter or Forestry Aid, depending on location and with leeway for schooling or military experience can expect to start off earning between $11 to $14 per hour, according to the Department of the Interior. Crews also earn overtime pay.
The median nationwide salary for a firefighter, regardless of location, was $52,500 a year, or $25 an hour, in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
States like California also employ prisoners to fight its wildfires, often compensating them with as little as $2 to $5 a day.
Biden had the backing of the nation's firefighters during the 2020 presidential campaign. The International Association of Fire Fighters publicly endorsed then-candidate Biden for president.
The work of firefighters will be more crucial than ever this year. Officials in Colorado, California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington State have warned that the 2021 wildfire season may exceed the over 52,000 wildfires reported in 2020 — a nationwide record.
Biden also announced he will hold a meeting next week with governors of states in the western half of the country, cabinet members and federal emergency management officials to discuss preparedness efforts for the upcoming wildfire season.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Biden calls $13 federal firefighter wage 'ridiculously low'