The heavy lifting of becoming a Cal FIRE firefighter begins in a small remote town in Northern California. Situated on a sprawling campus in Ione – about 40 miles from Sacramento – the Cal FIRE Academy uses a state-of-the-art facility to train future firefighters.
The groundwork is laid and the training is crafted throughout a pair of seven-week courses – Company Officer and Firefighter Academy. Students work, study and train together in all elements. By the end of the course, students are eligible to be hired and fight fires within hours of graduation. The next class arrives on campus just two days later.
“The seven-week program develops a very strong bond with the students,” said Jarrod Clinkenbeard, a Cal FIRE Battalion Chief and academy instructor. “They spend seven weeks together fighting through exams, long nights studying and doing drills. So their bond becomes very strong.”
Ninety percent of the academy’s students are seasonal firefighters. They initially arrive on campus with basic firefighting skills, but leave with advanced training in commercial- and residential-based scenarios as well as wildland urban interface – assessing and securing structures – and mobile attacking, among other training methods.
“It’s the framework of what we do and who we are at Cal FIRE,” Clinkenbeard said.
More than 2,000 Cal FIRE personnel participate in an academic curriculum ranging from Basic Fire Control and Arson Investigation, to Leadership Development and Forest Practice Enforcement. Students from fire protection and law enforcement agencies throughout California and the nation attend courses during the academic year, according to Cal FIRE.
If tapped on resources, academy instructors may accelerate the program in order to put students into the workforce quicker. The last time that occurred was in 2014.
“We’ve gone into draw down so low to where we’ve actually had to use students and the instructors here to staff engines to respond to incidents,” said Clinkenbeard.
As of July 30, Cal FIRE had responded to 3,736 fires since the start of the calendar year, an increase from the 2,860 fires burning in that same span a year ago. This year’s fires had scorched more than 206,000 acres combined, up from 139,000 acres in 2016. More than 500 new wildfires were reported just over the past week in California, including 267 in Cal FIRE’s protection area.
On average, Cal FIRE responds to approximately 3,024 fires (83,931 acres) from January through July.