CAL FIRE to hire more than 1,000 additional firefighters

More seasonal and permanent firefighters

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(Revised at 11:15 a.m. PDT July 10, 2020)

Inmate crew carrier vehicles
Approximately 19 inmate crew carrier vehicles at the Eagle fire in San Diego County, which burned between Warner Springs and Borrego Springs, California. CAL FIRE photo, July 25, 2011.

With the COVID-19 pandemic reducing the number of inmate firefighters, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is scrambling to find enough personnel to handle the all important job of cutting fireline and mopping up wildfires.

COVID spreading through inmate crew camps and prisons has cut the number of inmate crews available from 192 to 94. Thursday California Governor Gavin Newsom said 12 inmate camps had to be quarantined last month due to the virus. Compounding the firefighter shortage was the early release of thousands of state inmates to create more space in the facilities during the pandemic, and before that, the state’s initiative to reduce the incarceration of those jailed for lower-level offenses.

The Governor announced the state intends to hire an additional 858 seasonal and 172 permanent firefighters. The agency has also changed the mission of six California Conservation Camp (CCC) crews to exclusively perform fire related tasks, two in the south and four in the north.

Lynnette Round, a CAL FIRE Education and Information Officer, said the $72 million needed to hire the firefighters will come from the already allocated Emergency fund.

CAL FIRE expects to begin hiring the firefighters immediately using current eligibility lists. They anticipate that a recruitment process will occur to increase the number of candidates beyond the current lists.

The increase in the number of employed state firefighters is part of  the agency’s effort to keep 95 percent of all fires to 10 acres or less.

(This article was edited July 10 to show that 172 permanent firefighters are being hired, in addition to the 858 seasonals.)

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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.

30 thoughts on “CAL FIRE to hire more than 1,000 additional firefighters”

  1. thats awesome,i know theres a purpose to using inmates,but i think its great theyre hiring again.maybe some of the young guys and gals out there will try to get hired,those that have lost jobs due to the covid-19 situation ya know?

  2. I think that’s great! I don’t believe criminals should be doing the work like the people that have had the training to do it, especially when the shut down the Hotshot crews this year. Criminals need to stay in prison where they belong!

      1. Well you know what the have criminal backgrounds they shouldn’t be getting the work the others can cane have without the criminal records. So it doesn’t matter to me if they have the training or not they stay in prision.

        1. I’ve gotta say I’m not particularly choosy about who comes around to keep the house from burning down.

          Can’t speak for calfire but there’s a lot more people with convictions out there saving life and property than you might expect. That includes hotshots and everyone else.

          Glad they’re hiring more perms.

          1. My old boss used to say the only difference between us and them is they got caught.

          2. Hey Matt, I know there is a a lot with convictions out there helping fight fire in the summer, and I too wouldn’t care if a inmate saved my property from burning down. I was just happy to hear that Calfire was doing that instead of letting the inmates do the work, even though its cause of the virus. I hope you see where I’m coming from.

        2. Chad, I don’t like criminal behavior either. I hate all the meth zombies in my town who steal everything that isn’t bolted down. However, not every person in prison deserves to be locked down with zero opportunity to improve. Paul Manafort definitely deserves his lockdown, but some of the other convicts deserve a second chance and the opportunity to learn job skills. In my many years as a hotshot I worked with quite a few former inmates who were outstanding firefighters. I’m still close friends with them. I would guess the majority of the Cal Fire Inmate Firefighters don’t reform. But if guys like my friends can go through that program and then become functioning members of society then I feel it’s worth it. Plus they work incredibly hard on those crews. In my opinion they aren’t Type 1 crews because they can’t spike, they can’t split mods, their level of experience and fitness varies, their burn shows typically leave a lot to be desired, and their captains usually lack crew experience when they first get the job. However, most of the inmate crews I’ve worked with fill the necessary role and do it well.

          As somebody who moves the chess pieces in an area with a lot of multi-agency DPA boundaries, I want as many available crews as possible right now. At this point I don’t care if their trousers are green, blue, or orange. I’m grateful for all the times the Devil’s Garden, Intermountain, and Antelope Camp inmates have assisted me in putting my agency’s fires out.

          Yeah but by all means keep all convicted criminals in prison where they can sit around and learn new and exciting ways to commit crimes, overdose on drugs, and stab each other. Why would we want to use tax dollars to try to rehabilitate them by teaching hard work and valuable skills? As a California tax payer who’s getting robbed blind by this state, I’d like to see my money go to programs that help with convict rehabilitation as well as convict prevention through public education. As a lifelong resident of a prison town, I can assure you, everything that happens in the prison affects the community. If they’re in there stabbing each other and overdosing, our community ambulances and hospital resources are stretched thin. I prefer to have as many of them as possible doing things to help my community instead of burdening us.

          I’m not a bleeding heart who thinks we should let them all out. There are many inmates who should never get out and I’m glad I’ll never meet them because I’m a keyboard warrior, not a homemade knife fighting warrior. But a lot of them are just dudes who didn’t get enough dad time, they did some drugs, they stole something, they won a street fight, or they got a bad dui or three and they need to be shown a different way. Chad, I mean you no personal disrespect. Your opinion on inmates is the same as most of my coworkers and close friends. You could be right and they should all be locked up. This rant was just the opinion of somebody with seventeen years of wildland fire experience and over thirty years residency in a county with three prisons. I do agree with you that members of the public getting these job opportunities is great. I just disagree that all inmates should stay locked up for their entire sentence.

          Also, I agree with Matt’s old boss; the only difference between us and them is they got caught.

          1. that’s total BS. Anyone whoever swung a pulaski or ran a saw on the line knows that inmate crews don’t come close to hotshots in performance. And to equate crews with demonstrated criminality with hardworking hotshots by trivial comments about getting caught is just so insulting. Fact is, inmate crews deprive a lot of young, ambitious, hardworking kids from breaking into the business and getting valuable experience towards building a career. How do I know? Well it’s just common sense but the fact that CDF is now going to hire thousands of people, at good wages because their slave labor pool is depleted is the best evidence. It sounds like you are some kind of dispatcher or fire manager now. How about we scour the prisons for white collar criminals with management experience to do your job? Criminals have no business taking jobs away from free people.CDF likes it because they can actually make money when the crews are making premium reimbursement on non-CDF fires, while only paying them pennies. Stop hiring criminals and you’ll find more than enough young kids to fill these positions.

            1. First of all of all the FireFighters I have talked to on here they don’t talk like you do, so you have to be just a type 2. You got mad really fast. Plus this discussion has been over for a long time. Second I have been Using a Polaski and have ran saw with Hotshot crew. I just voiced my opinion. Im not a dispatcher of manager so must a got put on those jobs since you brought those jobs up. I just don’t believe inmates should be working the fire lines when people coming out of training can get hired and have a job. So why do don’t read the more recent articles and keep up on new things happening on the line.

              1. I hope they don’t get to come back either if this virus is solved. I rather have them be working in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, The Gila forest area, the most memorable when we went to Canada and actual saw and how doug fire lines with high pressure fire hose, and others I have had good working life spending. Also meeting some of the best people in my life. So I agree with you. Take care ok.

            2. Joe,
              I misunderstood you then. I thought you were supporting them the orange line . I was all excited when I heard there were going to be 1000 jobs out there for the new guys and gals. Just getting old and didn’t read it right. So if you read my post wrong or I wrote it wrong. I don’t support the orange suits on the line, I just would like the young guys and gals that go to school for this training to have the jobs.

              1. No problem Chad. I was actually responding to Big Mun’s post, not yours. My nephew had been trying to break into firefighting and was turned down again and again, even with my contacts. CDF just laughed him out of the room. It took him 4 years to finally get on. When I think of the hundreds if not thousands of jobs sucked up in the west by the inmate programs (Nevada has something similar) makes my blood boil. Lots of fine young folk out there, hungry for a job in the woods but denied because of inmate hiring. we seem to be on the same page here.

            3. Yes we are. That’s why I started the first response to the news the day i got it on the email. And your nephew will get in the job. And it will be full time job also i hope

    1. sometime that’s great but if it’s going to help the environment you have to do what you have to do everybody is not always a criminal

    2. Inquire and know your facts before speaking. I used to be one of those inmate firefighters. I was the best sawyer they’ve ever seen and ine of the hardest workers. I had the training and also took classes for more certifications while in a CCC camp. People like you wonder why inmates cannot reform and change, when in reality they aren’t given the chance, and/or the state prisons do not actually “REHABILITATE” them. I loved being a part of something to help people and our living. Prisoners with that opportunity can be reformed with assistance and the means. Be open minded and don’t be so quick to judge. God Bless brother.

      1. Wonderful Otis. Everyone, if desired and given the chance can do and be the best want to be. God Bless you.

        1. Thank you Minnie. All of us are imperfect. We all need to be more loving and understanding of all people’s walks of life during these crazy times. But I believe lots of people can change for the better if given a real chance. I wish everyone best wishes and Gods grace.

  3. Hey Big Mun and Matt,

    Wasn’t trying start a fight or anything like that. I was just voiving my opinion and was happy to see that maybe some of those Hotshot Crews that got shut down this summer will get work now. I know if it were my Hotshot crew back then I would be bummed.

    And also hearing Matt’s Boss saying, the only difference is they got caught and we didn’t, I agree also.

    1. Chad, I apologize if I came off a little agro. Rereading my comment I can see it was a long obnoxious rant. I wasn’t trying to start a fight either. I got carried away on my soapbox. I do hope everybody has a safe season. That’s all that really matters. Once again I apologize.

      1. Big Mun,

        No Need to apologize at all. Be safe! Like you others have said I have said I have worked along side inmates and they do there job, its I was just happy to see that CalFire was hiring qualified firefighters and this time even though its only cause if the virus. Be safe if your still out there on the line. And to all Fire Fighters Be safe!

  4. On the low end of the pay scale, if someone walks out of my digs with $1000 worth of stuff and fences it for 5 cents on the dollar for an 8-ball, I’ve gotta earn $5000 or $10,000 after taxes, medical, wheels and rent just to replace it, to recover from the theft. That’s the economy of it; crime always causes poverty.
    I’ve worked with offenders too. Some will make it, some weave in and out of prison, and some will die in jail.
    We all need mentoring and direction. We all need to experience positive things, and some need a reason to start that uphill climb. It always looks the very worst from the very bottom. We all need a reason, from there.
    “Deliver me, Lord, from the judgement, of the saints who have never been caught.”
    But if 6 months of my labor is only worth an 8-ball to you, the rest of your life isn’t worth much to me. So be very, very careful how you steal from me.

  5. Cal Fire and CDF before that have long experience working with inmate crews. My father’s first job with CDF back in 1957 was running the nursery at Parlin Fork, working with inmate crews. As a seasonal firefighter on an engine crew, I always loved seeing the inmates coming up the line, swinging brush hooks and McClouds like there was no tomorrow. A very small percentage of the inmates in the conservation camp program don’t work out and get sent back to prison. By and large, the program has worked very successfully at both putting out fires and saving lives and property and helping rehabilitate inmates to become successful members of society when they get out.

  6. And just to be clear Chad, those inmate firefighters were the backbone of putting out those fires. I have met and worked alongside some of those hotshot crews. They are hard workers and busted their but. But even they recognized what we did. While they the majority of the time did a 1-3 foot scratch line, we did anywhere from 6 feet to 35. I was on many fires for 5 years including the Esperanza fire back in 2006 where many brothers lost their lives. Regardless of who did what, what position you were in, we were in there together with one common goal!

      1. Joe Hill, I see that I offended you which was not my intention. I was referring to when I was working and what I’ve seen and my experience. As far the best sawyer comment, I was also referring to inmate crews as we always had our competition cutting line yearly. Again I apologize if I offended you. But know that I was the same as far as my work ethic. I trained vigorously and wanted to be the best for myself. I took that opportunity seriously and it was the best job I ever had and most gratifying. But if you feel the same after my clarification I understand and wish you well moving forward.

      2. Joe, to also clarify, inmates aren’t the ines with the power to take jobs from free people. That would be the state. Inmates don’t really have the say to what kind of jobs to get. We were just lucky that opportunity was presented to us. I risked my life the same as everyone else out there for $1.95 a day plus fire par which was that an hour not for the money I can tell you that. But because I loved helping and I wanted ti do better. To think that all inmates don’t deserve a second chance, or to work in this field because of mistakes is asinine. Some are actually innocent paying for others mistakes.

  7. it is not personal. Every year motivated, ambitious young men and women trying to break into the fire service get turned away from handcrew jobs. There are just not enough of them.
    If CDF didn’t have so many inmate crews, those positions would be available to these young people, trying to start fire careers. Inmates shouldn’t be competing for these jobs. My opinion.

  8. In that I agree Joe 100%. Citizens that are free should be 1st in line. As well as those citizens that were former inmates but are now free that have experience. Acting inmates should not take the place of law abiding citizens. If they hire accordingly and still need assistance, then I think that is the exception. When there are multiple fires and there is a need to dispatch more crews. I thank you for understanding and being civil as I believe this is the type of dialog we need in all things. Be blessed my brother!

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