The federal agencies that employ firefighters to suppress wildfires have struggled to hire enough personnel in recent years, but especially in 2020 and 2021 in California. Today the San Francisco Chronicle (subscription) reported that after having 5,000 firefighters for multiple years in California the number working for the U.S. Forest Service dropped from 5,000 in 2019 to 3,956 in 2021, more than a 20 percent decline.
The five federal agencies that have significant wildland fire programs have a total of about 15,000 positions related to fire. In the last few years the number of vacancies has been growing due to difficulty in hiring and experienced firefighters leaving the organization for better pay and working conditions.
Legislation pending before Congress, the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act (H.R. 5631), could make a difference. It would address many of the heartbreaking issues wildland firefighters and their partners face, including raising firefighter pay, creating a wildland firefighter job series, providing health care and mental health services to temporary and permanent wildland firefighters, housing stipends, and other improvements. (More details are in the Wildfire Today article from October 19, 2021.)