CAL FIRE introduces firefighting hand crews staffed by civilians

New CAL FIRE Firefighter 1 hand crews
New CAL FIRE Firefighter I hand crews. CAL FIRE photo.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, has introduced two hand crews staffed by civilians, rather than inmates. Based in the San Bernardino Unit, their primary mission will be fuels reduction and fighting wildfires in San Bernardino, Inyo, and Mono Counties.

Each Type 2 Initial Attack crew is staffed by 2 Fire Captains and 12 Firefighter I’s. The 4 Captains selected to lead the crews bring 107 years of wildland firefighting experience, with over 60 of those years spent on hand crews. Most of the firefighters have Type 3 engine time and about half bring hand crew experience.

This is a significant step for a state that has been relying on inmate hand crews for over half a century.

With the COVID-19 pandemic reducing the number of inmate firefighters, the CAL FIRE 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. On July 9 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.

New CAL FIRE Firefighter 1 hand crews
New CAL FIRE Firefighter I hand crews. CAL FIRE photo.

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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. Google+

13 thoughts on “CAL FIRE introduces firefighting hand crews staffed by civilians”

  1. What do they mean by “civilians” in this context? Pick up crews that work when needed? Independent contractors? Volunteers? I’m assuming the first (pick up crews) but it’s not entirely clear when you call them civilians.

      1. Okay, but that seems like a confusing use of the term. The dictionary (at least the one I looked at) defines a civilian as: 1) a person who is not on active duty with a military, naval, police, or fire fighting organization.
        2) Informal. anyone regarded by members of a profession, interest group, society, etc., as not belonging; nonprofessional; outsider:

    1. Actually a better term would be paid FF1’s instead of Inmates. Each unit in the state (21) is/has put together a FF1 handcrew to help make up the loss of the inmate crews due to COVID19 and the soon to be shut down inmate camps.

    2. The State, USFS, NPS, and BLM used to use organized, Highly Trained, college crews for wild land fire fighting. I guess the college kids of today can’t be bothered, to train, and be ready for 24 hour calls. To much hard work. I loved it. 5 yr. Veteran Wildland firefighter. 4 yrs with Lassen College AD crews. And didn’t need a captain from CDF to babysit us. Worked independently and with Incident command, just like Hotshot crews. Never lost a man, and only 1 serious accident in 4 years. CDF hooked up a hose line in LA brass to aluminum. Hit a squad boss in the head when it separated. Bad deal.

    1. They took people off the list from last year. If you are interested watch the CAL FIRE site around the end of October/first part of November for the application period for next year.

  2. Sounds like a great plan being implemented. Based upon the leadership provided, they are going to be successful. Are they “full-time” throughout the fire season?

    1. If people want to continue to live in wildfire prone areas, they have to pay people to protect their property, not complain when they can’t rely on essentially slave labor.

  3. This is a great program. Finally having firefighter 1 handcrews which will be highly motivated ,well trained and versatile on the line. Two FC’s per crews? How is that working out? What is crew size? How are crews housed? Are these crerws going to consevation camps? Just wondering…retired FC-B…Trinity River C.C.

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