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Local Fire Departments Suffering Staff Shortages

Firefighters patrol the fireline and mop up hot spots at the Chapparral Fire, which strandles San Diego and Riverside counties. Aug. 31, 2021.
Cal Fire
Firefighters patrol the fireline and mop up hot spots at the Chapparral Fire, which strandles San Diego and Riverside counties. Aug. 31, 2021.

Like many industries, fire departments have a problem with staff shortages.

“A lot of people think that there's thousands of people standing in line to get jobs as paramedics and firefighters. That might've been true 20-25 years ago but boy ... have we seen a change!” said Rick Vogt, the fire chief for the city of Escondido and president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association.

Local Fire Departments Suffering Staff Shortages
Listen to this story by Tania Thorne.

He said when the pandemic put a pause on the world, it included school and internship opportunities.

“Our pipeline of new employees was cut off, so we're really playing a game of catch up right now,” said Vogt.

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Palomar College Firefighter Academy in San Marcos may be an exception to the rule.

The academy was able to operate through the pandemic due to a state exemption and Dave Miller, the program director, said classes have been full.

“We have a lot of people in the educational pipeline. They're just not in a position to be hired on yet,” he said.

Miller said there’s no shortcut to the rigorous training and job requirements graduates need to meet.

“Most agencies in our county also require you to have a paramedic license. So not only some fire training, you have to have your paramedic license,” said Vogt. “Well, those schools take a long time to get through. And so that narrows down how many people come out and are available to get hired.”

Job requirements and pay are also factors impacting San Diego’s firefighter recruitment pool.

“If you go north of the San Diego county line, there's a significant jump in pay and often a reduction in requirements,” said Miller.

Nonetheless, Vogt said opportunities can be found locally and if someone is thinking about pursuing the career, now is the time to ask.

“Just about every firefighter that's working right now at a fire station is more than willing to discuss with people, encourage them in the process and let them know what it takes,” he said.

VIDEO: Local Fire Departments Suffering Staff Shortages