LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — One labor shortage that could be particularly dangerous for the entire state of California is the one among federal firefighters.
Federal firefighting crews in California are understaffed by as much as 30%, which is particularly worrying as state officials brace for what could be a devastatingly bad wildfire season this summer.READ MORE: Callers With 562, 626, 949, 951 Area Codes Must Now Dial Full 10 Digits, Even To Make Local Calls
The shortage has the usual roots – federal firefighters are overworked and underpaid. Fire season in California is now a year-round, and according to Capt. Lani Brown, pay for forest service firefighters starts at $13.45 an hour – far short of California’s minimum wage of $15.
“Asking people to do this hard, dangerous work where sometimes they’re putting their lives on the line, it’s just not reasonable,” Brown said.READ MORE: Alisal Fire Burn Area Residents In Santa Barbara County Ordered To Evacuate As Storm Arrives
And that leads to a situation that all too many Californians who struggle with housing are familiar with – being unable to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the community where those firefighters work.
Brown says one way to help with firefighter pay would be to reclassify them – most are not classified as firefighters, but as forestry technicians.
“It’s been really frustrating to watch these quality people that come in and really want to do this job basically have to make a choice,” she said.
Congressman Josh Harder has been working to create incentives to pay crews a living wage. He also wants to hire more staff and keep them.MORE NEWS: 'Supercharge' Storm Set To Bring Heavy Rainfall To Southland
“We need to make sure that these fire crews are staff, because this fire season is going to be devastating,” he said.