Bakersfield Californian: Affordable Training Reinforces Firefighters
In numerous support letters to the California State Senate, fire districts across California expressed difficulty finding enough funding for critically important firefighter training. Between the costs of safety gear, coursework and training materials, the total costs per recruit ranges from close to $4000 to almost $5600, pricing out many interested applicants from entering the fire academy, which in turn affects the total number of firefighters serving across California.
After input from firefighters and fire chiefs throughout California, I am carrying Senate Bill 577 to allow the State Fire Marshal to accept additional funding sources for California State Fire Training (SFT), which provides curriculum and certification to current and aspiring firefighters. To generate enough revenue to operate the prerequisite training, user fees have increased by over 200% and in some cases by as much as 400% since the 1970’s. This has resulted in coursework and certification becoming increasingly unaffordable to firefighters, as well as individuals seeking entry-level positions.
The record rainfalls experienced across California this year have overwhelmed parts of the Central Valley and forced us to ponder the severity of the next weather related crisis. Looking eastward towards a historically large snowpack, we know that where spring and summer snowmelt waters will eventually flow, vegetation that fuels the next fire season is not far behind. It is why we must ensure California firefighters are empowered with the resources, support and training necessary to not only do their job, but to do it safely and return home to their families.
Of the fire departments registered with the National Fire Service Department Census, 87% of them are all-volunteer or have some volunteers. In California 242 fire departments are 100% volunteer; 221 are mostly volunteer and 138 are a mix of paid and volunteer firefighters. They all equally commit to serving the public good, and they all equally risk their lives every day they are on the job. In small communities entirely reliant on volunteer firefighters, whose ranks range from small business owners to the employees of a community’s largest company volunteering their time, training cost expenses could prevent individuals with limited finances from contributing their time and presence to the collective safety of their community during peak fire season.
California ranks high among the states in terms of the total number of employed firefighters, and the annual pay offered. Given the wide-ranging response capabilities of Cal Fire to emergencies ranging from fires and floods, to earthquakes, as well as search and rescue missions, it is prudent to ensure that firefighters receive training that adequately prepares them to meet the evolving needs of the future.
SB 577 ensures a common sense solution to mitigate the rising costs of training. Firefighters face an enormous risk every day they are on the job serving their communities. Their commitment is not only inspiring, but also deserving of support to ensure their safety, and to fulfill their mission of saving lives.
Op-ed appeared in the Bakersfield Californian, June 2, 2023 https://www.bakersfield.com/opinion/community-voices/community-voices-affordable-training-reinforces-firefighters/article_fd7554c4-00ab-11ee-b3df-37a69700556e.html#:~:text=Between%20the%20costs%20of%20safety,of%20firefighters%20serving%20across%20California.
 California Legislative Info Service website, support-oppose portal, http://lis.calegis.net/LISWeb/faces/bills/billdetail.xhtml;jsessionid=NZBJ7ZFN_F5FKBM5giK1q2vv3xjM3V_tPhc3LB91kRjIaOm5ckME!659969387
 Fresno City College Fire Academy website https://www.fresnocitycollege.edu/academics/career-and-technical-education/fire-technology/fire-academy.html
 South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Fire Academy https://theacademy.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Fire_SBFA-EXPENSES-COST-V8.18.21.pdf
 ‘Double-edged sword’: why the badly needed rains in California could fuel catastrophic fire, the Guardian, Feb 13, 2023 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/feb/13/california-storms-rains-drought-fires
 Cal Fire All-Hazard Response capabilities overview https://www.fire.ca.gov/what-we-do/all-hazard-response