Cal Fire rushes to hire hundreds as fire season heats up

With scorching temperatures this week and a long fire season ahead, Cal Fire plans to add hundreds of firefighters.

But at least one Southern California Cal Fire unit is seeing more job offers rejected than usual. A tight labor market, the hazardous nature of the work, and the entry-level salary are challenges for agencies that employ firefighters as they prepare for fire season.

Cal Fire operates 356 fire trucks, 291 of which are seasonal. Positions that occupy these seasonal engines generally begin in the spring and can last up to nine months, depending on the intensity of the fire season. Generally, the fire season begins in May and lasts until fallaccording to the state, but climate change has resulted in fire seasons starting earlier and lasting later.

Station Captain Todd Davison of Cal Fire’s San Bernardino Unit said he plans to hire 220 seasonal firefighters. But making those hires has been difficult.

“We noticed that a lot more people were rejecting department job offers,” Davison told the LAist. The challenge comes as unemployment has steadily declined over the past two years.

The US Forest Service, which fights fires on federal lands, has lost more than 1,000 employees in California between 2019 and 2021. The entry-level salary and the dangers of the job give some would-be firefighters a second thought. At CalFire, training injuries pose serious risks for some seasonal employeesas LAist reported.

In recent years, as the number of acres burned has broken records, the burden on firefighters was enormous. In 2020, Cal Fire was unable to meet approximately 7,900 fire truck requests, 900 bulldozer requests, and 600 helicopter requests. To compound the problem, fewer incarcerated people are working on fire crews, due to changes in sentencing, according to a recent legislative analysis.

Weather conditions don’t help. While December was wet, 2022 was dry. “We’re on track to dry out and that means the fire season will likely be earlier,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kristan Lund.

A bill in the State House could impact how Cal Fire staff handle fire seasons in the future. SB 1062, introduced by Sen. Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles), aims to establish minimum staffing levels at Cal Fire and add 768 firefighters to staff 16 additional fuel crews.

“What’s happened over the last decade in this state – with the rise of these megafires and the understaffing – just isn’t sustainable with the number of firefighters who are on the lines right now,” he said. said Stern. The bill came out of a Senate committee on Tuesday.

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