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Idaho wildland firefighters may soon get a raise

Courtesy of Idaho Department of Lands
Bill to boost Idaho firefighters' pay to $15/hour while they're working uncontrolled fires goes to the governor's desk

Lawmakers say it's an attempt to keep Idaho-trained people from going to work in other states.

Idaho lands officials say they frequently lose seasonal firefighters to neighboring states that pay higher wages. On Monday the Idaho Senate approved a bill aimed at combating that.

Sen. Jim Woodward (R-Sandpoint) says it’s frustrating for the state to make the investment to train men and women how to fight wildfires and then see them go elsewhere after they’ve fulfilled their obligations.

“The typical time frame to earn the certification is two years, at which point we are seeing 40 percent turnover," he said.

“We are losing them to other states because our base pay is closer to a fast food burger flipper than it is to someone who is a professional and taking a high risk, personal risk, to be in their job," said Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d'Alene), who supported the bill.

Woodward’s bill boosts wages by 25% during the hours when firefighters are actively battling an uncontrolled wildfire or working at a fire helicopter base. That would bring their pay during those hours to 15 dollars. He estimates the raise could cost the state an additional $400,000 a year.

“If we can help prevent or diminish the damage from these fires anywhere in the state, we will come out on the better side of this fiscal note," Souza said.

Woodward’s bill passed unanimously. The House had already approved it so it's off to the governor’s desk.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.