Senator McGuire also added words on the proposal.
“It’s simply not enough,” added Senator McGuire on Friday. “There are not enough California firefighters to keep up with the growing demand we’re seeing each and every year. The thinner staffing has led to firefighters working for weeks at a time without days off while battling some of the largest and most destructive fires in the state’s history. Cal Fire firefighters have dedicated their lives to keep us safe. Now we as a state need to step up and keep them safe.”
“Inmate firefighters are making up a small portion of those ranks in recent years. In February 2020, there were 1,426 inmate firefighters in Cal Fire camps, down 8% compared to the year prior. That number is only a third of the 4,200 inmate firefighters reported by the state’s firefighting agency a decade ago.”
A potentially large expansion of Cal Fire
Due to the bipartisan nature of the bill and the critical need for more wildfire-fighting resources, the proposal saw little to no opposition on Friday. Wildfire fighters praised the bill, saying that long stretches of overtime with no breaks had been wearing thin on them, with the bill allowing some breathing space.
“People think we’re lucky because we largely don’t have to work for months at a time,” a Cal Fire firefighter who wished to remain anonymous told the Globe on Friday. “But, like football players or other professionals whose work comes around a certain time of the year, we are still working. We’re training, learning new equipment, working out to maintain strength levels needed, teaching rookies, going over practice scenarios, and, if the firefighters are more local, even being “loaned out” to other wildfire hotbeds like Australia.”
“But when the fires are on, we can go months without a substantial break. If we’re not in California due to a lull here, then we’re helping elsewhere. It’s a mad rush of making firebreaks, rerouting fires, dousing the flames, everything, all in one area. And then when that fire starts to go, right of to the next one.”
“We’re just over 6,000 people now, so adding over a thousand will give us time to have longer breaks and be able to catch up on everything. If we aren’t going to put more inmate firefighters out there, then this is what is needed.”
The proposal is expected to be formally introduced soon.
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