Kern County cuts their Rio Bravo Hotshot Crew

It was the only county-funded hotshot crew in the U.S.

Rio Bravo Hotshots cut defunded
Rio Bravo Hotshots in 2018. Kern County Fire Department photo.

The southern California-based Rio Bravo Type 1 Hotshot crew has been defunded. The Kern County Board of Supervisors announced in a press release earlier this month, “Rio Bravo Crew 7 will be unstaffed for 2020 due to budget constraints.” This was the only county-funded hotshot crew in the United States. All others are part of state or federal organizations.

Abby Bolt wrote about cutting the crew in her “Up in Flames” blog June 18. Here is an excerpt:

…Over the past few months rumors have been floating around in local firehouses with an assumption that Rio Bravo’s 2020 fate would be inevitable. The combination of low interest and motivation for KCFD firefighters to adapt to seasonal hotshot crew schedule and culture, low moral, and budget cuts created the perfect storm. Another important note is not just any Kern County Firefighter can supervise a Hotshot crew. There are a number of wildland qualifications that must be met by crew leadership which are not easy to attain.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains a list of Hotshot crews on their website.

Rio Bravo Hotshots cut defunded

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

9 thoughts on “Kern County cuts their Rio Bravo Hotshot Crew”

  1. Sorry to see that program end. Here’s to Tony and the 1983 Black Rock Hotshots! Mike Bowles, and all the rest. Kernville fun times and hard work.

  2. well that TOTALLY SUCKS.

    Kern County hot-shots, programs like that should be first in line for Fed. Covid19 funds.

    1. I absolutely concur with this comment above regarding COVID-19 disaster relief funding for the KCHS program.
      Isn’t this HS crew considered an “essential” part of our country’s crucial first responder forces?
      The 2020 Wildland Fire season is just getting off to a pretty solid start in my four corners region.
      Scares me to think about having less resources available this year and California’s rich fuel beds all primed & ready for ignition because of extreme drought status in the north. So sorry to hear this news.
      Thank you KCHS for doing the thankless quality job of being a well oiled professional Wildland fire services team. You will be sorely missed on the fire line this season.
      Peace
      JB

  3. Makes absolutely no sense. What were they thinking? Wait’ll October, and losses of property this season, they might seek federal funding to maintain this HS crew?!

    1. There’s always two sides to every story, but the initial release mentioned other things besides budget. Lack of quals, lack of interest, challenge in getting career FD personnel to staff the crew, etc.

      I know a lot of other IHC’s currently that are running into similar issues, qualifications being a big one. Attracting quality candidates is another challenge, as you can start at Costco in my area for $16 an hour, with full benefits. Glory doesn’t support a family, neither does a seasonal job.

  4. It sucks to have any crew stood down. Being funded by KCFD and not the bureau of land management or forest service surely played into this. Knowing KCFDs general budget has an element based on out of county automatic/ mutual aid , I am surprised they would have to defund the shot crew. They are an integral cog in the gearing. What may also be a factor is within a 65 miles circumference to their east and north there are 4 maybe 5 other shot and IA crews. THey work fires on a rotational cycle. Not sure how they picked what crew other than county funded. Lots of friends on all the crews. Their loss will be felt. Regardless.. hate to see it. Only crew I can remember from my days on the line from 72 going forward that were county funded.

  5. Losing Rio Bravo HS is certainly a blow to not only local capabilities, but also national. It was stated that lack of of interest was a major factor in the decision to disband the crew. This lack of interest could have been overcome if the county’s leadership had fully supported the crew concept. For many years the Rio Bravo Superintendent held the rank of Firefighter. As anybody that is familiar with the hot shot crew pecking order, you know that a federal superintendent is paid better than a GS 3 firefighter. Many years ago, the should have created a Superintendent position equal in pay to a Captain that would allow promotion to the position based mostly on qualifications. That has never been a priority for Kern County.

    The silver lining in this story is with the funding saved by cutting the crew, the county has been able to reinstate the 20 person helitack crew they cut a few years back. Being the helitack crew is more mobile and diverse, it wasn’t such a bad choice.

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