Cal Fire union launches TV ads as it presses Gavin Newsom to hire more firefighters

The union that represents state firefighters is airing commercials in Sacramento this week with a two-pronged message: Cal Fire’s firefighters are overworked and you should take steps to protect your home.

The 30- and 60-second spots are meant to be informative, but Cal Fire Local 2881 President Tim Edwards said more aggressive commercials could follow if fire conditions worsen without the state dedicating more money to firefighters.

“If we start dragging into another long work period, we’ll get into another thing saying look how long we’re working at a time because of staffing shortages,” Edwards said.

At current staffing levels, firefighters can spend weeks away from home when wildfires break out, Edwards said.

The union has been pressing the state to boost hiring, pointing out fire conditions are remain dangerous while Cal Fire has fewer firefighters and more ground to cover than in the past.

The state budget, sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, adds 13 engines and 131 firefighters along with new air tankers, helicopters and other equipment. With the increase, Cal Fire will have about 6,000 firefighters.

Edwards said the department needs about 1,000 more firefighters to grow the force enough to provide needed breaks for wildland firefighters.

Cal Fire’s wildland fire guidelines call for a 24-hour break after 14 days, which is often spent at a hotel. The guidelines call for another break after 21 days, but those breaks don’t always come and they are not enough, Edwards has said.

As this year’s fires start to pop up, burning 5,000 acres last weekend, Edwards said he is already receiving calls from anxious firefighters who worked long stretches away from their families with little rest last year. Suicides and divorces are both up among firefighters, he has said.

The department paid firefighters $207 million in overtime last year, more than any other state department. Edwards has pushed the state to add 31 engines to return to 1975 staffing levels, Cal Fire’s peak staffing.

While calling attention to the staffing, the $50,000 run of commercials suggest homeowners eliminate most trees inside a 30-foot perimeter around their homes and allow only scattered trees within 100 feet.

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