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for people who care about the West

Higher pay for hotter jobs?

  -If they called them firefighters, they'd have to pay them like firefighters." That's the aim of union organizer Kenny Harrell of the Sacramento-based California Professional Firefighters. Harrell wants better pay for federal wildland fire crews, now called "forestry technicians." Under that title, federal firefighters are paid less than municipal workers and then only while battling flames. The Agriculture Department says the title indicates the range of duties performed by its fire personnel, but to Harrell it's a way of forcing firefighters down the pay scale. The average wildland firefighter makes an hourly wage of $7.21, Harrell says, while other Civil Service employees at the same grade earn $10.34, and municipal firefighters earn about $12.34. As a result, Harrell says, wildland fire crews push themselves harder, working longer hours to make up for the lower pay scale. "In effect, they are killing themselves. We're going to have wildfires again. And they are going to start dying again." Harrell's solution is "portal-to-portal" pay, which would start the clock for federal firefighters from the time they arrive on the fire and include time spent eating, sleeping or resting. "Shea Andersen