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Idaho struggles to hire enough firefighters for upcoming wildland fire season

Elaine Thompson
AP Images

The state is struggling to hire enough firefighters for the upcoming wildfire season.

Presenting in front of Idaho’s Board of Land Commissioners on Tuesday, Fire Management Chief Josh Harvey said it’s been difficult to retain experienced seasonal wildland firefighters, engine bosses, and specifically, incident commanders.

“It’s a pretty niche job,” he said. “We're competing with our neighboring states, contractors as well. So, the opportunities are there, the bodies are not.”

The challenge, Harvey said, is getting people into entry level positions, which pay $16 an hour. Once hired, he said folks have long term ways to climb up ranks. Most hires, Harvey added, are already firefighters.

Currently, the state has 141 seasonal firefighters hired for the 2024 fire season and only 18 out the 31 engine chief positions, or less than 60%, are filled.

“What that's going to mean is our assistant wardens and our fire wardens will be covering that instead of some of the other duties they have,” he added, saying permanent and non-fire personnel would have to step in. “To ideally staff, those 31 engines would have a qualified engine boss on each one of them.”

Reports show the federal government has been struggling to recruit seasonal wildfire firefighters as well, citing the job’s low pay, dangerous conditions and poor work life balance.

I joined Boise State Public Radio in 2022 as the Canyon County reporter through Report for America, to report on the growing Latino community in Idaho. I am very invested in listening to people’s different perspectives and I am very grateful to those who are willing to share their stories with me. It’s a privilege and I do not take it for granted.

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