McGuire calls for immediate hiring of 1,124 firefighters amid mental health crisis for exhausted workers • The Mendocino Voice | Mendocino County, CAThe Mendocino Voice
MENDOCINO Co., 10/12/21 – Angel Hendrie has been a captain at CalFire in San Diego and a firefighter for almost 30 years. Her husband has been a firefighter for 40 years. They’re a CalFire family, Hendrie said this morning on the North Steps of the State Capitol, and they know how stressful the job can be as they both try to raise 15. old twins at the same time.
“So many times, when we come back from long fire missions, when we’ve been on duty for more than 60 days at a time, we have to come straight back to our fire stations and still be on duty with no end in sight,” , said Hendrie.
Hendrie has said she gets by with her mom’s help, but working that many hours in a row isn’t what it’s supposed to be. As a result, she ends up missing out on major events in her children’s lives. “I admit I have at least one emotional breakdown every fire season due to exhaustion and the lack of my family,” she said, adding that she was doing better than others. Stress consumes everything and kills other firefighters.
“In 2017, my three-year-old partner at the fire station committed suicide one morning after leaving his post,” said Hendrie. “Being stuck on duty for long periods of time took a toll on her marriage and her mental health.”
The firefighters are tired. They are overworked. Some of them are even at breaking point. Earlier this year, North Coast State Senator Mike McGuire was successful in convincing seasonal firefighters to get the same protection as full-time firefighters in the state. Hendrie joined McGuire at a press conference in Sacramento on Friday to push for more hires at a time when CalFire is desperate to recruit workers. “We need to address the shortage of CalFire firefighters for the health and safety of the men and women who support us today,” McGuire said. “They are the gold standard of America’s firefighting force.”
McGuire has support throughout the bill for the coming year that will require the immediate hiring of 1,124 firefighters. It would include a mandatory minimum of three firefighters per engine, which would lead to the hiring of 356 new full-time firefighters. The US Forest Service (USFS) and most local and city districts already have three firefighters per engine, but CalFire has 2.7. “CalFire only achieves three firefighters per engine when forced overtime is implemented,” McGuire said.
The legislation would also require mandatory minimums for the number of firefighters in manual teams and would lead to the hiring of an additional 16 teams of 48 firefighters each to complete the 1,124 total hires expected. These teams are expected to provide on-the-ground support during fire season, proactively move on defensible space and fire prevention projects, and protect vulnerable communities.
“We also know that more needs to be done,” said McGuire, “which is why we are going to come up with a modern staffing plan for CalFire. The law would require a staffing study that will ensure that staffing needs are met. “The staffing agency and infrastructure in this new reality we live in are satisfied. This study should be submitted to the governor and lawmakers no later than one year after the bill is signed.
Firefighters work long overtime, up to 40 consecutive days without a day off, under traumatic conditions. More than 54,000 calls were made by firefighters to the state’s mental health hotlines. “What we know, working long overtime hours, 40 days in a row, away from their families, causes significant stress and mental health issues for firefighters at CalFire,” McGuire said.
Standing in front of a few dozen firefighters, Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters Union, said, “If I asked the men and women behind me a question, ‘How many of you know someone who’s been committed suicide? ‘ Each of them would probably raise their hands.
Fighting fires has become more active and dangerous than it was a decade ago, and each fire season is proving to be several times more powerful than the last, Rice said. The answer is to hire more staff, and “there is no shortage of qualified candidates in this state,” he said. “There are young men and women lining up to test and be part of this profession,” Rice said. “We just have to work together to loosen the budget dollars so that we can protect the state of California to the best of our ability.”
You can watch the full press conference here Senator McGuire: Fight for the firefighters – YouTube.