As wildfire season receives a head start in Northern California and looms in the south of the state, fire departments are facing a statewide personnel shortage, authorities say.
Newport Beach Fire Chief Jeff Boyles said California’s staffing shortage of firefighting personnel is leading to overworked firefighters.
“We hold them for three, four days in a row, sometimes five days in a row,” Boyles told The Epoch Times.
“We let them go home for a day or two and then they come back for another three, four, or five days and they’re burning out. As a chief, I must watch their morale, watch their mental health, their physical health. [If] they are still exhausted, they can’t perform.”
The shortage began during the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic due to hiring delays and freezes. With budget constraints taking effect last year, personnel close to retirement were offered early exit plans.
As many eligible firefighters were checking out early, there were no new hires, Boyles said, adding that it takes about six months to onboard firefighter personnel.
The delay of onboarding new staff also occurred as a result of medical examination requirements being unavailable amid closed doctor’s offices throughout the height of the pandemic.
With the wildfires blazing up north, personnel from Orange County have been heading upstate to assist. However, with the already massive shortage of firefighters, the situation down south tightens.
“We’re already significantly short-staffed back here at home, so that adds to the problem,” Boyles said. “Where it’s impacting is our employees are having to work an extra shift; they basically don’t go home.”
Greg Barta, Orange County Fire Authority spokesman, told The Epoch Times that amid the need for firefighters, the state was at high fire risk due to decreased rainfall leading to dry vegetation, which can lead to catastrophic wildfires.
“The urban interface where we have homes and communities that are bordering and pushed right up next to the wildland area where there’s a significant amount of brush, those are the areas that concern us the most,” Barta said.
Despite the need for more personal, Boyles says there’s no impact on the services provided by the fire department, especially when residents dial 911.
With recruitment for entry-level firefighters reopening last August, potential personnel are training to be onboarded by winter.