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California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)
Logo of CAL FIRE.svg
Operational area
Country United States
State California
Agency overview[1]
  • 5,400 permanent
  • 2,400 seasonal
  • 5,350 volunteer
  • 4,300 inmates
Annual budget$2.0 billion (2016)
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 (abbreviated Cal Fire and styled CAL FIRE; formerly abbreviated CDF)[2][3] is the State of California's agency responsible for fire protection in State Responsibility Areas of California 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. It is often called the California Department of Forestry, which was the name of the department before the 1990s.[4]

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is also the largest full service all risk fire department in the Western United States and operates more fire stations year round than the New York (FDNY), Los Angeles (LAFD), and Chicago (CFD) fire departments combined. It is also the second largest municipal fire department in the United States, behind only the New York Fire Department.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ CAL FIRE Wildfire Awareness Week 2011 Event - Sunol, CA
  • ✪ CAL FIRE and Military Partners Prepare for Peak Fire Season
  • ✪ CAL FIRE Wildfire Awareness Week 2011 Event - Friant, CA




Cal Fire is a department of the California Natural Resources Agency, a state cabinet-level department that is comprised, in part, of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Department of Water Resources. The department is responsible for the fire protection and stewardship of over 31 million acres of California's privately owned wildlands. In addition, the Department provides varied emergency services in 36 of the State's 58 counties via contracts with local governments.

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 350,000 annual calls for service, only 2% of which are wildland fires. Cal Fire also uses inmate handcrews in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to assist with fire suppression and logistics. 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 Department's Director is Thom Porter, who was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom.[6]

Cal Fire operations can be viewed as fitting into two categories: Schedule "A" and Schedule "B". Schedule "B" is defined as Resources Agency/Cal Fire-funded, it is the wildland side of Cal Fire primarily responsible for protecting the SRA. Schedule "A" activities 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.

The primary job of Cal Fire is to provide fire protection for the State Responsibility Area or SRA. SRA lands are defined by the Public Resource Code of the state 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)

Cal Fire resources are available to federal, state and local agencies for all disaster related incidents such as floods and other weather related situations. Bulldozers and inmate handcrews are often very valuable for protecting lives and property. Inmate crews are also available these agencies for construction and maintenance projects. These resources come with a complete supervision, command and logistical organization that is among the nation's best.

Starting on January 24, 2007, CDF has changed its "informal" name to Cal Fire. The purpose of the name change was to more accurately represent the all risk nature of the department. ([7])


Firefighters employed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are represented by IAFF affiliate, Cal Fire Local 2881,[8] which represents 5,700members within Cal Fire Local 2881 and is also associated with the California Professional Firefighters (CPF)[9] and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).[10]

Organizational structure

The largest and most visible part of Cal Fire operations is fire suppression. Operations are divided into 21 Operational Units, which geographically follow county lines. Each unit consists of the area of one to three counties. Operational Units are grouped under either North or South Regions.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is part of Cal Fire and oversees activities including fire prevention, regulation of fire safety, and pipeline safety.[5] All gas cans sold in California, for example, must be approved by the Office of the State Fire Marshal and marked with the Office's seal.

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 Fire Air 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.[11]

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 employees go through this academy once they become permanent employees (i.e. Forestry Technician, Firefighter II, Fire Apparatus Engineer, etc.) The Company Officer Academy (COA) is only held in Ione. All new company officers (Engineer, Captain, Forester I, etc.) attend this academy.

Operational units

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.[12]

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.[13]

Northern Region

  • 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

  • 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)


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".

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.[14] One metric used by fire suppression units is initial attack success: fires stopped by the initial resources, (equipment and people,) sent to the incident.[15]

Air program

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 [16]

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.[17]


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.

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.

Mobile Communications Centers

Cal Fire’s Mobile Communications Centers (MCC) are a rapid response mobile emergency incident communications system. Six Cal Fire MCC are located throughout the state. The MCC provides a variety of incident communication support functions. Dispatchers monitor incident radio traffic and communicate with personnel on the incident as well as communicating and coordinating with the Emergency Command Center of the local administrative unit. Inside the MCC there is a general work area with computer workstations, amateur radio (HAM) operator stations, and audiovisual equipment. The MCC is the hub for communications activity at an emergency incident. It has satellite phone capabilities for those incidents where phone coverage is not available due to remoteness or catastrophic loss of phone service. It provides access to televised weather conditions and local news reports. It also serves as the cache for additional portable radios that are often needed at a large or complex incident.


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.[18] This is made possible through the use of an automatic vehicle locating (AVL) system developed and installed by RadioMobile; 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] Information about fires is batch-uploaded into a statewide statistical analysis system which is used to drive improvements to fire suppression and prevention. Resource Ordering Status System is used to cooperatively manage equipment and staff from other agencies at campaign-type fires.

The three largest state government land-mobile radio systems include California Highway Patrol, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Any of these three systems might be considered largest depending on what constitutes the factors of "largest." If some combination of the number of mobiles, overall number of transmitters, total number of users, annual number of incidents, number of radio transmissions carried, or geographic area served were considerations, one of these three would be largest.

Cal Fire is a major user on the State of California, Department of General Services, Public Safety Microwave Network (PSMN). The network is used for the state's Green Phone telephone network, a telephone system used for communications between public safety agencies. The system primarily serves state agencies. Intercoms between ECCs use audio paths supported by microwave radio. These intercoms usually appear as circuits on communications consoles in dispatching centers.

Aircraft are a prominent feature of Cal Fire, especially during the summer fire season. Both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are employed.[20] 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.[18]

Telecom history circa 1970

As of the early 1970s, CDF systems used VHF "high band" (151 MHz repeater/159 MHz mobile) stand-alone repeaters on State of California communications sites. CDF was an early adopter of walkie-talkies (hand-held radios), but the radios did not perform to modern public safety system standards. The systems served their purpose, but were not originally engineered for hand-held coverage because of the enormous operating areas, the difficult terrain, and the lack of infrastructure to support a complex system. Sites had commercial power, but many lacked reliable telephone lines or microwave radio connectivity. In terms of geography, CDF served mostly rural areas and the radio repeater sites to cover these areas were located in remote wildland. Voting was in its infancy and, in CDF repeater systems, was unheard-of. Users understood this and used radios in clever ways. For example, if an engine arriving at a fire could not find a spot where they had a radio path to reach dispatch, they would call another engine that could communicate and ask the staff to relay their message. The unit might see if they could get through by switching to an alternate channel, such as State net, which had repeaters at different sites, and consequently, a different coverage area.

The smallest geographic division of CDF Fire is the Operational Unit. Examples of Operational Units are Lassen-Modoc Operational Unit and Tuolumne-Calaveras Operational Unit. Operational Units are named for counties served. In the 1970s Operational Units were referred to as Ranger Units. Ranger Units were grouped into six CDF Regions, which may have been called "Districts" in earlier years. Radios were configured in a hierarchy with channel selections for Local (serving a Ranger Unit), District/Region, and State nets. By switching to the "State" channel, any two CDF radios statewide could communicate. Fire units from different Ranger Units but within the same district or region could communicate on the "Region" channel.


1970s CDF systems used single tone or tone burst to select repeaters. The system had five tones statewide, allowing up to five repeaters in overlapping radio coverage areas on the same channel. Tones used, in order from tone 1 through 5, were: 1,800 Hz, 1,950 Hz, 2,200 Hz, 2,400 Hz and 2,552 Hz. Station ringdowns and some volunteer sirens were actuated using a Motorola selective calling scheme called Quik Call I.

During the conversion from tone burst to Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) in the early 1980s, Department of General Services (DGS) technicians modified repeaters to work with either burst tones or sub-audible CTCSS tones. This allowed repeaters to be used with either type of signaling as the tone burst mobiles were swapped out for newer models.


Like most State equipment, CDF used a mix of radios from several manufacturers varying from one contract bid to the next. Scanning, selectable tone burst, six-channel transmit, and three-channel receive were beyond the capabilities of most off-the-shelf mobile radios in 1970. Custom-made General Electric MASTR Professional hybrid tube/solid state mobiles were bought in one early 1970s contract. CDF was an early adopter of scanning; this radio incorporated General Electric's scanning feature, called Priority Search Lock Monitor.[21] Many of the CDF repeaters in service in 2009 are GE/MA-COM Mastr III synthesized base stations.

CDF control head, 1970s
CDF control head, 1970s

In the 1970s, at least some CDF repeaters were RCA Series 1000 units. These had solid state receivers and exciters with continuous duty tube final power amplifiers. They produced transmitter output powers in the range of 100-120 watts.

The earliest fully solid state mobile radios were used in the CTCSS conversion. They were 99-channel Midland radios. An early 1980s discovery was that users had to carry cards with lists of the channels. The radios had many channels and no alphanumeric display describing to whom one would talk when the display said channel "65", for example. The Midland mobiles used flat, computer-hard-disk-style ribbon cable to connect the control head on the vehicle dashboard with the radio unit drawer. To improve reliability, some units used segments of discarded inch-and-a-half fire hose as a jacket to protect the easily abraded ribbon cable.

Since the early 2000s, radio equipment in use is the Kenwood TK-790 mobile radio with a CDF-custom firmware package giving 254-channel capability, plus the ability to create a "command group" for incident frequency management in one bank. Bendix-King GPH-CMD portable radios (HT's) give the same functionality in a 500-channel handheld. All older mobile and portable radios, including older Bendix-King EPH portables, either have been or are in process of being phased out, due to the pending requirement for all public safety radio nets to be narrow-banded.

Law enforcement

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). Additionally, law enforcement staff 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.


The Cal Fire executive staff includes the following individuals.[22]

  • Director: Thom Porter
  • Chief Deputy Director: Janet Barentson
  • Acting State Fire Marshal: Mike Richwine
  • Deputy Director, Fire Protection: Joe Tyler

See also


  1. ^ a b "CALFIRE at a Glance" (PDF). CALFIRE. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  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. ^ "CAL FIRE — General History". Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  5. ^ a b State of California 1998 Telephone Directory, (Sacramento, California: State of California, Department of General Services, 1998).
  6. ^ California, State of. "CAL FIRE - Executive Staff". Retrieved 2019-01-08.
  7. ^ minute 12:38 at
  8. ^ Cdf Firefighters
  9. ^ CPF - Home
  10. ^ Welcome to IAFFonline! Archived 2008-03-06 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ CAL FIRE "Air Program"
  12. ^ Henson, C., Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, (Susanville, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005).
  13. ^ Gilbert, M., Riverside Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, Perris, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005.
  14. ^ California Public Resources Code, Sec. 4130.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Supertanker ready for summer of fighting California's fires", Inland Wildfires, June 14, 2007, accessed August 6, 2007
  17. ^ Plane Crashes At Yosemite National Park During Fight Against Dog Rock Fire, KOVR-TV, October 7, 2014
  18. ^ a b Fraser, Debbie, CDF Training and Academy Course Catalog, March 2006, (Ione, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2006).
  19. ^ Santa Clara Unit 2005 Fire Management Plan, Morgan Hill, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2005).
  20. ^ 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).
  21. ^ General Electric no longer makes two-way radios under that name; the company is now known as the M/A-COM Critical Communications division of Tyco Electronics.
  22. ^ California, State of. "CAL FIRE - Executive Staff". Retrieved 2019-01-08.

External links

This page was last edited on 16 November 2019, at 21:08
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