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Wildland firefighting company reacts to Montana's increase for firefighter pay

Posted at 2:30 PM, Jan 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-16 16:30:54-05

HELENA — Montana wildland firefighters will see a pay increase to $15.50 this upcoming season. This is up $1.70 from the previous minimum wage.

Michael Wheelock, a seasoned smoke jumper himself, is president of Grayback Forestry, a contract wildland firefighting company. He finds this pay increase important and well-deserved.

“So, it is time to move it up. And the fire seasons are getting longer and longer, and it's taken a toll socially on families, you know, college students, you know, there's just a lot of burn out,” says Wheelock.

This pay increase comes right on the heels of the federal government’s minimum wage increase of $15 an hour for federal contractors. This also comes after federal firefighters received a pay increase last summer of $15 an hour.

The governor and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation say the move is imperative as the need for reliable and solid help is necessary as fire seasons become longer and more intense.

With a majority of Grayback’s workforce being annual workers, the company’s starting minimum wage is $19.64 plus benefits. This can help retain the same seasonal workers and keep their business competitive.

“It takes so long to bring up a firefighter to a crew boss level, or firefighting, we have to provide incentives to stick around, and we've had a lot of people with us 20 to 40 years,” says Wheelock.

Hopefully, the higher minimum wage will retain skilled workers and lessen burnout during next the next fire season.