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Wildland firefighter spouses join the fight for reform

 Janelle Valentine recently went to Washington, D.C. to advocated for pay reform for wildland firefighters like her husband.
Courtesy Janelle Valentine
Janelle Valentine recently went to Washington, D.C. to advocated for pay reform for wildland firefighters like her husband.

In recent years, wildland firefighters and their advocates have organized to demand change on issues like pay, housing and mental health. Firefighter spouses are also joining the fight, and a new group is looking to channel their grievances.

Janelle Valentine’s husband has been a Forest Service firefighter for about a decade, and the couple is raising their two young children in rural New Mexico. Frustrated by his pay and other issues, she started taking action on her own – like writing op-eds and reaching out to representatives – several years ago.

“It's really hard to send your partner away for weeks at a time and then still be struggling financially,” she said.

Sponsored by an advocacy group, she went to D.C. last month to speak with legislators about looming pay cuts faced by her husband and thousands of his colleagues. If temporary raises go away, Valentine says her family could lose their home.

“I'm a mom,” she said. “I can't lose my house. I have to fight for my kids. I have to fight for my family. And we also want to fight for the job. Like, my husband loves his job.”

Valentine recently started the group Fired UP for firefighter spouses like her to advocate for their partners. There are a number of support groups for the many issues that firefighter partners face, like prolonged separation and difficulties raising children without an extra hand during the season.

However, Valentine said they were principally for emotional support, and not always good spaces to discuss political and policy issues.

“I think a lot of us just didn't even know that we could advocate for our spouses,” she said. “There's kind of a lot of gray area about what can and can't be said for them, or should or shouldn't be said for fear of backlash, things like that. And we don't have that necessarily. Like my husband can't get in trouble for what I say.”

Just a Facebook group now, Valentine says they’re working to form a board and get nonprofit status.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse