California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

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California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Logo of CAL FIRE.svg
Operational area
Country United States
State California
Agency overview[1]
  • 6,100 Permanent
  • 2,600 Seasonal
  • 3,500 Inmates, Wards, Conservation Corps Members
  • 600 Volunteers In Prevention (VIPs)
Annual budget$2.3 billion (2018-2019)
Fire chiefThom Porter
EMS levelALS
Facilities and equipment[1]
Stations237 owned/operated
575 operated
Engines343 owned/operated
624 operated
Ambulances63 paramedic units
Airplanes23 air tankers
15 tactical planes

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)[2][3] is a fire department of the California Natural Resources Agency in California, United States. It is responsible for fire protection in various areas under state responsibility totaling 31 million acres, as well as the administration of the state's private and public forests. In addition, the department provides varied emergency services in 36 of the state's 58 counties via contracts with local governments. The department's director is Thom Porter, who was appointed by Governor of California Gavin Newsom.[4]


The department's firefighters, fire engines, and aircraft respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. Those fires burn more than 172,000 acres annually. Along with over 500,000 annual calls for service, only 2% of which are wildland fires. In conjunction with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cal Fire uses thousands of incarcerated firefighters at 44 conservation camps throughout the state on fire prevention, fire suppression, and various maintenance and conservation projects. Cal Fire works with employees of the California Conservation Corps for logistics and vegetation management. Programs to control wood boring insects and diseases of trees are under forestry programs managed by Cal Fire. The vehicle fleet is managed from an office in Davis, California.[5]

The primary job of Cal Fire is to provide fire protection for the state responsibility area (SRA). SRA lands are defined by the Public Resource Code of the state of California first, as, "covered wholly or in part by forests or by trees producing or capable of producing forest products. Second, they are "those covered wholly or in part by timber, brush, undergrowth, or grass, whether of commercial value or not, which protect the soil from excessive erosion, retard runoff of water or accelerate water percolation, if such lands are sources of water which is available for irrigation or for domestic or industrial use." Finally, they are "lands in areas which are principally used or useful for range or forage purposes, which are contiguous to" the lands described above. The State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection determines what lands are included in the SRA and their decisions have the force of law. (California Public Resource Code Section 4126)[citation needed]

Cal Fire operations fit into two categories: Schedule "A" and Schedule "B". Schedule "B" is defined as state funded, which deals with fires within the state's responsibility areas, which are primarily wildland fires. Schedule "A" activities (Local govt funded) include county and municipal fire departments, as well as fire protection districts run by Cal Fire under contracts with local governments. From north to south, Butte, Napa, San Mateo, Tuolumne, Merced, San Luis Obispo, Riverside, and San Diego counties are examples of county fire departments operated by Cal Fire under contract.[citation needed]

To enforce state fire and forest laws, Cal Fire law enforcement officers are trained and certified in accordance with the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The Office of the State Fire Marshal provides assistance when requested by local fire and law enforcement agencies in arson, bomb, fireworks, and fire extinguisher investigations, as well as disposal of explosives. Office of the State Fire Marshal Arson and Bomb Specialists provide fire and bomb investigation services to state-owned facilities, and provide assistance to local government fire and law agencies.[citation needed]

Organizational structure[edit]

The largest and most visible part of Cal Fire operations is fire protection. Operations are divided into 21 operational units, which geographically follow county lines. Each unit consists of the area of one or more counties. Operational units are grouped under either the North Region or South Region.[citation needed]

The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) is the Cal Fire program that protects life and property through the development and application of fire prevention, engineering, training and education, and enforcement. As part of this mission, OSFM establishes a fire-safe environment for the people of California, which serves as a foundation for local agencies to build on as they strive to meet their specific goals.[citation needed]

There are two Cal Fire training centers. The original academy is the Cal Fire Training Center in Ione, east of Sacramento. The second academy is at the Ben Clark Training Center in Riverside. Both centers host the Fire Fighter Academy (FFA). All Cal Fire Fire Protection employees go through this academy once they become permanent employees. The Company Officer Academy (COA) is only held in Ione. All new company officers (Engineer, Captain, Forester I, etc.) attend this academy.[citation needed]

Rank Structure[edit]

Title Insignia
Captain (2 Silver Bugles)
Battalion Chief (2 Gold Bugles)
FIRE BUGLES - 2.4 (GOLD).png
Assistant Chief (3 Gold Bugles)
FIRE BUGLES - 3.1 (GOLD).png
Deputy Chief (4 Gold Bugles)
FIRE BUGLES - 4.3 (GOLD).png
Unit Chief (5 Gold Bugles)
FIRE BUGLES - 5.1 (GOLD).png
Staff Chief
Assistant Deputy Director
Deputy Director
Chief Deputy Director


Director Thom Porter

The Cal Fire executive staff includes the following individuals.[6]

  • Director: Thom Porter
  • Chief Deputy Director: Craig Tolmie
  • State Fire Marshal (acting): Mike Richwine
  • Deputy Director, Fire Protection: Joe Tyler


Firefighters employed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are represented by IAFF affiliate, Cal Fire Local 2881,[7] which represents 5,700 members within Cal Fire Local 2881 and is also associated with the California Professional Firefighters (CPF)[8] and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).[9]

Operational units[edit]

Operational units are organizations designed to address fire suppression over a geographic area. They vary widely in size and terrain.

For example, Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Operational Unit encompasses three rural counties and consists of eight fire stations, one Helitack Base, three conservation camps and an inmate firefighter training center. Fire suppression resources include 13 front-line fire engines, 1 helicopter, 3 bulldozers and 14 inmate fire crews. The unit shares an interagency emergency command center with federal agencies including the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. An interagency center contributes to economies of scale, supports cooperation, and lends itself to a more seamless operation. The area has fragmented jurisdictions across a large rural area along the Nevada and Oregon state lines.[10]

Riverside Operational Unit by itself is one of the largest fire departments in the nation, with 95 fire stations and about 230 pieces of equipment. The Riverside Operational Unit operates the Riverside County Fire Department under contract as well operates eighteen city fire departments and one community services district fire department. Nine of these stations belong to the state, with rest owned by the respective local government entity. The unit operates its own emergency command center in Perris. Terrain served includes urban and suburban areas of the Inland Empire and communities in the metropolitan Palm Springs area. The area includes forested mountains, the Colorado River basin, the Mojave Desert and Interstate 10.[11]

The counties of Marin (MRN), Kern (KRN), Santa Barbara (SBC), Ventura (VNC), Los Angeles (LAC) and Orange (ORC) are paid by Cal Fire to provide fire protection to state responsibility areas within those counties rather than Cal Fire providing direct fire protection, and are commonly known as the "Contract Counties".[citation needed]

Lawmakers in Sacramento have mandated that every operational unit develop and implement an annual fire management plan. The plan will develop cooperation and community programs to reduce damage from, and costs of, fires in California.[12] One metric used by fire suppression units is initial attack success: fires stopped by the initial resources, (equipment and people,) sent to the incident.[13]

Northern Region[edit]

  • Amador-El Dorado Unit - AEU / 2700 (Including Sacramento and Alpine Counties)
  • Butte Unit - BTU / 2100
  • Humboldt-Del Norte Unit - HUU / 1200
  • Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Unit - LMU / 2200 (Including Plumas County as of June 2008)
  • Mendocino Unit - MEU / 1100
  • Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit - NEU / 2300 (Including Sutter and Sierra Counties)
  • San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit - CZU / 1700
  • Santa Clara Unit - SCU / 1600 (including Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and parts of San Joaquin, and Stanislaus Counties)
  • Shasta-Trinity Unit - SHU / 2400
  • Siskiyou Unit - SKU / 2600
  • Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit - LNU / 1400 (including: Solano, Yolo, Colusa Counties)
  • Tehama-Glenn Unit - TGU / 2500

Southern Region[edit]

  • Fresno-Kings Unit - FKU / 4300
  • Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit - MMU / 4200
  • Riverside Unit -RRU / 3100
  • San Benito-Monterey Unit - BEU/ 4600
  • San Bernardino Unit - BDU / 3500 (Including Inyo and Mono Counties)
  • San Diego Unit -MVU / 3300 (Including Imperial County)
  • San Luis Obispo Unit - SLU / 3400
  • Tulare Unit - TUU / 4100
  • Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit - TCU / 4400 (Including portions of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Alpine counties)



Cal Fire uses various apparatus to accomplish their daily responses. Engines fall under two categories, either being state-owned — mostly wildland, or city/county owned, which Cal Fire operates under contract.[citation needed]

For the wildland portion, most engines are manufactured with West-Mark or Westates (now American Truck & Fire Apparatus) bodies on an International chassis. Commonly seen models of wildland engines include the Model 14, and 15. CDF Models 24 and 25 were test-bed models, with only a few of each model fielded. The newest versions of these engines are CDF model 34 (4WD) and 35 (2WD), manufactured by Placer Fire Equipment, Rosenbauer, and HME. Model 34/35's are currently being fielded statewide. As of 2009 Model 35's have been discontinued and Model 34's from BME Apparatus are the new standard. Fact sheets on all of Cal Fire's current-service Type 3 (wildland) engine models can be found on the Cal Fire Web site under Mobile Equipment.[citation needed]

Air program[edit]

Cal Fire owns its own fleet of air tankers, tactical aircraft and helicopters, which are managed under the Aviation Management Program. Additional aviation resources are leased by the department when needed. All of the fixed wing aircraft, while owned by Cal Fire, are piloted and maintained by DynCorp International. The Cal FireAir Program is one of the largest non-military air programs in the country, consisting of 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers, 14 OV-10A airtactical aircraft and 12 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters. From the 13 air attack and 10 helitack bases located statewide, aircraft can reach most fires within 20 minutes.[14]

Aircraft are a prominent feature of Cal Fire, especially during the summer fire season. Both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are employed.[15] Helicopters, or rotary-wing aircraft, are used to transport firefighting "Helitack Crews" into fire areas. They also drop water and retardant chemicals on fires. Fixed-wing aircraft are used for command, observation, and to drop retardant chemicals on fires.[16]

Cal Fire has contracted with 10 Tanker Air Carrier for three years' of exclusive use of their McDonnell Douglas DC-10 "super tanker" known as Tanker 910, at a cost of $5 million per year. Additional access is also provided to Tanker 911 and Tanker 912. In 2014 "Tanker 910" was retired and the company operates 2 other DC-10 "Super Tankers", Tanker 911 and 912 [17]

On October 7, 2014, a Cal Fire S-2T air tanker crashed while fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite National Park. The pilot was killed.[18]


Cal Fire uses several enterprise IT systems to manage operations. Altaris CAD, a computer-assisted dispatch system made by Northrop Grumman, is employed by each unit's emergency command center (ECC) to track available resources and assignments.[16] This is made possible through the use of an automatic vehicle locating (AVL) system which provides vehicle location, data communication, and dispatching through a mobile data computer (MDC) and a multi-network switching system in over 1200 vehicles statewide. Each operational unit has a stand-alone system which includes detailed address and mapping information.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b CAL FIRE. "CAL FIRE at a Glance" (PDF). CAL FIRE. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-03-29. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  2. ^ Shoop, Chelsey (2007-01-02). "CDF changes its name to CAL-FIRE". Paradise Post. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  3. ^ "Cal Fire: What's in a Name?" (PDF). Cal Fire. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  4. ^ California, State of. "Cal Fire – Executive Staff". Retrieved 2019-01-08.
  5. ^ State of California 1998 Telephone Directory, (Sacramento: State of California, Department of General Services).
  6. ^ California, State of. "CAL FIRE - Executive Staff". Retrieved 2019-01-08.
  7. ^ CDF Firefighters
  8. ^ CPF – Home
  9. ^ Welcome to IAFF online Archived 2008-03-06 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Henson, C., Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, (Susanville, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005).
  11. ^ Gilbert, M., Riverside Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, Perris, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005.
  12. ^ California Public Resources Code, Sec. 4130.
  13. ^ Gilbert, M., Riverside Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, Perris, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005); California Public Resources Code, Sec. 4130.
  14. ^ Cal Fire "Air Program"
  15. ^ Hemet-Ryan AAB Capital Outlay Project: Relocation Or Replacement Analysis, (Sacramento: State of California, Department Of General Services, Real Estate Services Division, Project Management Branch, 2005).
  16. ^ a b Fraser, Debbie, CDF Training and Academy Course Catalog, March 2006, (Ione, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2006).
  17. ^ "Supertanker ready for summer of fighting California's fires", Inland Wildfires, June 14, 2007, accessed August 6, 2007
  18. ^ Plane Crashes At Yosemite National Park During Fight Against Dog Rock Fire, KOVR-TV, October 7, 2014
  19. ^ Santa Clara Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, Morgan Hill, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005).

External links[edit]