CAL FIRE Dealing with long bouts and mental health issues

Redding, CA Sunset CAL FIRE Engines.
Sunset in Redding, California, August 10, 2014. A strike team made up of CAL FIRE engines for the Eiler Fire is in the foreground. Photograph by Bill Jabert.

Federal Land Administration agencies are not the only agencies facing retention, employment, and mental health problems. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employment system, CAL FIRE, calls for firefighters to work 72 hours a week. But in recent years, job vacancies have sometimes forced employees to work overtime, sometimes for days at a time, 24 hours a day.

Cal Fire 2881 President Tim Edwards represents approximately 5,400 Cal Fire firefighters. He told CBS13 that shifts that used to be 72 hours a week are now 30, 40 or 50 days without a break. He said the crews could not be excused due to the small number of employees.

A bill was drafted that would allocate $220 million to increase employment and reduce forced overtime. If passed by the California State Legislature, the Reform the Firefighters Shortage Act, SB 1062And the It will fund more than 1,100 additional government firefighters, 18 additional engine crews, and a year-long study to see future staffing needs.

A CAL FIRE spokesperson told CBS13 three weeks ago that the stations would be fully staffed within a week. The spokesperson added that the agency does not approve of Reform the firefighting shortage lawAnd it is only supported by CAL FIRE Local 2881.

In 2009, a series of articles on wildfires won a Pulitzer Prize for authors Bettina Boxall and Julie Kart of the Los Angeles Times. Ms. Kart who now works at CAL MATTERS wrote an article last week for publication about how PTSD affects the CAL FIRE workforce. The video below, posted on June 15, appears to be the product of their reporting.

Ms. Kart notes that about 10 percent of Cal Fire’s workforce quit last year.

Below is an excerpt from the article.

The California Fire Agency has been slow to respond to a mounting mental health crisis within its ranks as firefighters across the state say CAL FIRE has failed to get what they need — including a sustainable workload, easy access to workers’ comp benefits and more advisors.

While climate change is driving the perennial drought and wildfires ravaging California, nature can’t be blamed for all CAL FIRE’s problems: The state’s fire service, which prides itself on putting out wildfires quickly, has failed to eradicate a burning mental health problem among its ranks.

Several firefighters told CalMatters they were exhausted and exhausted, and described an epidemic of post-traumatic stress at their fire stations. Veterans say they are considering leaving, which would drain the agency of their decades of experience. Some have opened up about suicidal thoughts, while others – an unknown number because CAL FIRE does not track it – have actually committed suicide.

author: Bill Jabert

After working full-time in prairie fires for 33 years, he continues to learn, striving to be a student of wildfire. Looking at all of Bill Gabert’s posts

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