April 10, 2020
CAL FIRE Local 2881 Members:
As we move toward the middle of April, the historic challenges associated with COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc in the communities we serve. This highly contagious virus is not only prompting major health issues, the consequences of dealing with the crisis are destroying livelihoods. Unemployment claims reached 15 million on April 9, a level the United States has not seen since the Great Depression.
Shelter in Place makes it impossible for once thriving businesses to even open their doors. California’s economy has been devastated by this epidemic. A 222.2 billion-dollar California budget is now a myth as the Governor promises nothing more than a bare bones, workman-like financial plan to be completed in the next two months.
Clearly, the crisis is forcing the California Legislature to also take a revised approach to Governor Newsom’s January budget proposal. This raises concerns as CAL FIRE is in desperate need of upgraded staffing, not only to respond to emergencies, but to allow relief for current firefighters. The initial proposal included 693 personnel of which more than 500 are firefighters. The budget increase for personnel has been a major priority for CAL FIRE Local 2881, and we engaged in both intensive legislative lobbying and media outreach to attain the new levels. Now, with this unforeseen economic downturn as a result of the serious reduction of capital gains, our staffing increase will be scrutinized with savings in mind.
I believe that any effort to cut suggested staffing is shortsighted and, in the long run, will result in more costly disasters that will dwarf any funding preserved. Your Union continues to be prepared to strongly advocate the importance of keeping increased staffing as a part of the budget.
The staffing needs are not a secret. We will continue to focus on the 72-hour workweek and the untenable work schedules that prevent our firefighters from returning home during major disasters; making us more susceptible to physical and emotional injuries. We are prepared to inform the Legislature and the Governor how our families are unfairly harmed by the lack of appropriate staffing.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted more than ever the importance of staffing and funding in order to bring a safe end to disasters. While we appreciate the money and time focused on prevention, the crisis in our urban interface and emerging demographics are accurate predictors that fires that once seemed historic are now a part of the commonplace challenges of our job. Let’s be clear, without the men and women who are trained to mitigate the crisis and instill calm during times of extraordinary duress, the problem will worsen, and the economic impacts will be daunting.
Our message to city, county and state policymakers is to be responsible and keep California’s Fire Department moving forward, appropriately staffed and with an infrastructure in place to respond to varied disasters within the state. Obviously, this is no easy task when confronted with an uncertain economy and increased needs, but CAL FIRE Local 2881 will organize statewide educational campaigns highlighting CAL FIRE firefighters and the crucial role we play in protecting the people we serve.
We do not sit idle or isolate ourselves from the issues that are critical to our members. We are engaged with our legislative advocates, and CPF and IAFF representatives with one common goal – bolstering CAL FIRE’s efficiency, through staffing and improving working conditions for our members.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Stay the Course,
President, CAL FIRE Local 2881