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How Eldorado National Forest is attracting younger generation to firefighting

Eldorado National attracts younger generation to firefighting
Eldorado National attracts younger generation to firefighting 02:00

EL DORADO COUNTY — As we get deeper into fire season, you may be wondering if your local fire crew is fully staffed. The Eldorado National Forest said it is pretty close.

"There's been a lot of effort to add permanent positions and get away from a temporary workforce," said Brad Stewart, fire chief of the Eldorado National Forest.

Stewart said that as of now, they have about 200 total positions. They are currently 97% staffed, which is up 10% from 2023.

"The Eldorado National Forest has been aggressive in utilizing all those avenues to bring in more firefighters into the Eldorado National Forest specifically," Stewart said.

One of those avenues is the Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship program, where participants get 3,000 hours of training and experience.

Stewart also said they will soon have a Wildland Fire Explorer program for young men and women ages 15-21.

"That would be a weekly program where we expose them to both physical training and firefighter training to be able to hire them in the future," Stewart said.

Another way the county is attracting younger talent to the firefighting field is through the Fire Control Technician Regional Occupational Program (ROP) through the El Dorado Union High School District.

EDUHSD offers 48 Career Technical Education (CTE) courses, 11 of which are ROP.

"Ideally, this program helps prepare a student for their further education whether it be on-the-job training or specifically job training," said Chief David Whitt, a ROP Fire Instructor.

Whitt said it is a year-long program and students who complete it leave with EMS First Responder, Basic Wildland and American Heart Association CPR certification.

"Most importantly, this class isn't about firefighting. It's about life and how to serve other people," Whitt said.

He explained that one of the main things they focus on is "growing your own."

"Taking a local kid at the lowest, earliest age possible, which right now is basically a junior or senior in high school, and be able to get them on the pathway so they can come back home and serve their own home," Whitt said.

Stewart said they hope to start recruiting for the explorer program in the fall and start sometime in December.

More information about applying to different jobs within the Forest Service can be found here.

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