Washington, DC – Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) joined Andrew Rossi on KODI Radio out of Cody, WY this morning to discuss her bipartisan legislation, the “Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act,” to overhaul federal firefighter pay, benefits and classification. The legislation is named after Tim Hart, a smokejumper from Cody, Wyoming who lost his life on May 24, 2021 while working on the Eicks Fire in New Mexico.
Listen to the full interview here and see the transcript below:
ANDREW ROSSI: Joining us live now from Washington, Representative and Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Representative Cheney, thank you so much for calling in this morning.
REP. LIZ CHENEY:Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s good to be with you, Andrew.
ROSSI: Likewise. So, today we are discussing the new act that you’re trying to push through Congress, which is the “Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act,” which sounds like a tremendously important piece of legislation that we should probably get signed as soon as possible.
REP. CHENEY: Well, absolutely. And this really was inspired by the tragic loss of Tim Hart from there in Cody, who lost his life earlier this year. And, you know, I know the whole community has been affected by that. Tim’s wife, Michelle, has been just a tremendous advocate. She visited with me and with a number of other members, Bruce Westerman, the Chairman of the House — or Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Congressman Neguse from Colorado. And we’ve worked together, Congressman Neguse and I, to co-sponsor “Tim’s Act,” which, you know, Michelle’s really shined a spotlight on the lack of health benefits for our smokejumpers, the lack of pay parity in many instances. I mean, we are, as you know, and as your listeners all know, facing just a huge challenge of wildfires across the West, in particular, this year. And we ask these brave smokejumpers to really, you know, risk their lives. And, unfortunately, sadly, in Tim’s case, he gave his life fighting these fires. We’ve got to have skilled people. We’ve got to reimburse people. We’ve got to make sure we’re paying them, you know, what the job and the sacrifice, you know, requires. So, I’m really hopeful. We’re actually going to be testifying today in the House Natural Resources Committee about “Tim’s Act,” and I’m hopeful we can move it quickly through the House and to the Senate and then to the President’s desk for signature.
ROSSI: Yeah, I’m looking at the statistics that you provided. Firefighters nationwide are 30 times more likely to commit suicide, a 30% increased risk for cardiovascular disease, 43% increase for lung cancer, and they’re doing that while making $13.45 an hour. And as you said, we’ve been asking so much of them lately, with as many wildfires as we’ve had, it seems like it’s well past time that this gets addressed.
REP. CHENEY: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I think it’s clearly — it’s going to take legislation to get it addressed, to help to boost their annual pay, to help pay them portal to portal, and to make sure that we’re providing adequate health care, and mental health resources. I mean, it is an unbelievably difficult and challenging job, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re providing the support they need.
ROSSI: So, if you could shed light on this for us, Congresswoman, how did the Act come to be named after Tim Hart? Because clearly, his work touched all of us here in the Cody community, and he had an impact on lots of people in lots of states. I’m just curious how he became the inspiration to get this act through Congress?
REP. CHENEY:Well, you know, first of all, his tragic death, fighting fire. And then his wife, Michelle, who really just was an unbelievable spokesperson — she came to Washington and visited with a number of us. And I think, you know, when you have somebody like Michelle who was really able to, sort of, put a human face on the tragedy, and also talk to us about the specifics of the challenges our wildland firefighters are facing. I think it really opened people’s eyes, and I think it really helped to inspire action. And I also think, you know, it’s one of those issues that there should be bipartisan support for, and that’s why, you know, I was really pleased to be able to co-sponsor this with Representative Neguse from Colorado, who’s facing the same challenges and issues in his district. And, you know, we ought to be able to come together across party lines to help to support our wildland firefighters. So, we both knew we really wanted to name this after Tim Hart and make sure we continue to remind people about the sacrifice.
ROSSI:Well, that leads perfectly into my next question, which is twofold. One, just based on what you know about the House and just the political climate in Washington currently, how likely do you think this bill is to get that bipartisan support? And then from there, what’s the timeline that you expect to get it through the House, through the Senate, and then onto the desk of President Biden?
REP. CHENEY:Well, we’re certainly going to try to move as quickly as we can, and I think it’s important. The Democrats are in the majority, so it’s obviously helpful to have legislation that has a Democratic co-sponsor to move it through. I think that, you know, the fact that we’ve just introduced the Act, and we’ve got a hearing already today on it gives you a sense of the bipartisan support for the legislation. And so, we’re going to be working with Congressman Neguse’s office and with the Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee and the Democrats on the committee to find a vehicle to move this through as quickly as possible.
ROSSI:Well, that sounds tremendous, and certainly a worthwhile endeavor. So, you said the committee is meeting this morning?
REP. CHENEY:We are, that’s right. The subcommittee is meeting this morning to have a hearing on this bill, and so I’m very hopeful that we’ll be getting a positive vote out of the subcommittee and then move on to the full committee.
ROSSI: Well, we wish you all the best from here in Cody. It sounds like something that affected us tremendously, and certainly a worthwhile memorial for a native of our community and somebody who clearly did a lot for the benefit of our community and this nation.
REP. CHENEY:Exactly. Well, I will look forward to being able to keep everybody posted as the legislation moves through, and again, doing everything we can to provide support for brave men and women who are helping fight fires across the West, across Wyoming. And hopefully this will be a really important step in that direction.
ROSSI:Absolutely. Congresswoman, thank you so much for your time this morning, and best of luck in the committee today, and I look forward to hearing the updates on the “Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act.”
REP. CHENEY: Great. Well, thanks so much. We’ll talk to you soon.
ROSSI: Thank you. All the best you, Congresswoman.