The dozens of fires that broke out across California in October shed light on the fact that about 20% of the fire fighters—entry-level first responders employed by the state department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)—were earning just $10.50 per hour, minimum wage. Cal Fire firefighters also work 72-hour workweeks, which is 16 hours more than what local firefighters work. The entry-level Cal Fire firefighters are able to earn comparable wages, but only due to time-and-a-half earned on 19 hours of mandated overtime.
Until their most recent contract, Cal Fire turnover was high, as the pay scale for higher level positions had not been adjusted to reflect minimum wage increases and entry-level firefighters could earn more than their bosses. Also, the long hours are hard on the families of firefighters who often don’t see them for days or weeks at a time. The demands of the job continue to grow with the frequency, costs, and impacts of fires across the state.