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Nat'l firefighters leaving for state jobs

April 1, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The devastating Southern California fires of last fall raised some serious concerns about whether there are enough firefighters available in case of a major disaster. A new federal report out Tuesday sheds some light on the issue.Last year's wildfires destroyed 2,200 homes and 800 square miles in Southern California.

Local, state and federal firefighters all helped put the fires out, but some are now wondering whether federal firefighters are understaffed, perhaps because they often leave their posts for better, higher-paying state and local jobs.

"Currently the state wage level for firefighters is pretty good, and it does exceed that of the Forest Service," said Bill Peters, San Bernardino Public Information Officer for the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection. "So we are seeing some of their folks who are transferring over with experience."

But Peters says agrees with the main point Tuesday's study made, that despite those concerns: "Perceptions around recruitment and retention in Southern California are hard to substantiate based on data," according to the U.S. Forest Service report. In other words, the U.S. Forest Service says there's no proof they're understaffed.

"Are there understaffing concerns about firefighters?"

"I honestly don't think so," said Peters. "There is no greater position that people strive to be, it seems, than firefighters. They won't have a problem, I don't believe, filling the positions. We always get them filled every year."

But it might be a problem when longtime firefighters retire and are then replaced by greener, inexperienced crews. So perhaps all the hubbub is just noise by the politicians trying to make sure that firefighters aren't forgotten come budget time.

"Anytime you're losing your staff, your experienced staff, there's reason for concern," said Peters. "But there's not reason for panic, because there's ways to deal with it, and hopefully with Senator Feinstein and what she's doing with that report, and prompting the Forest Service leadership in Washington, D.C., to look at California, which is a unique entity, then I think they're going to be on the right track."

 

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