California Department Of Forestry And Fire Protection

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California is the third-largest state in the country and covers an area of nearly 160,000 square miles with a coastline over 840 miles long. San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States, covering an area as large as Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. California's diverse landscape includes hills, mountains, brush, grass, forests, coastal plains, valleys, basins, deserts, rivers and lakes. The state's huge population is a true "melting pot" of over 30 million people.

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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF crew-carrying vehicles (CCVs) transport inmate hand crews to incidents. Each CCV carries 20 persons, tools, saws, food and supplies with a CDF captain in command. There are 193 CCVs in service.

California has had a dramatic and catastrophic history of man-caused and natural disasters that include earthquakes, floods, mud slides, explosions, wildfires and massive structural wildland interzone (SWI) fires. In addition to more than 900 local fire and emergency response agencies that defend California from these emergencies is the state-funded agency called the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). The following is a profile of this "all-hazards" emergency response state agency.

The CDF Mission Statement. CDF protects the people of California from fires, responds to emergencies and protects and en-hances forest, ranges, and watershed values providing social, economic and environmental benefits to rural and urban citizens.

The department. CDF is the largest multi-purpose fire protection agency in the United States and is directly responsible for wildland fire protection of over 31 million acres of California's privately owned watershed lands. In addition, CDF also provides full-service protection to nearly 11 million additional acres of land under reimbursement agreements with local governments.

The heart of CDF's fire suppression efforts is an aggressive initial attack strategy. The department's goal is to contain 95% of all wildland fires to 10 acres or less. This goal has been consistently met. At the same time, recognizing that some fires will escape initial attack and become larger than 10 acres, CDF maintains a firefighting force of 3,800 full-time fire professionals, foresters and administrative employees; 1,400 seasonal personnel; 5,500 local government volunteer firefighters; 2,600 volunteers in fire prevention; and 3,800 inmates and wards who work aggressively to prevent and suppress wildfires.

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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF Model 14/Type 3 wildland engine is equipped with a 500-gallon tank and Class A foam system.


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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF Model 18/Type 2 interface engine is equipped with a 700-gallon tank and Class A foam system. It can be used for wildland or structural fire protection.

Administrative units. CDF is divided into two regions with 22 ranger units, statewide. Within these ranger units, CDF operates 635 fire stations (230 state-funded and 405 locally funded stations). Also staffed are 24 lookout fire towers, 39 conservation camps for California's Corrections and Youth Authority, two fire centers in cooperation with the California Conservation Corps, 13 air attack bases and nine helitack bases.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Members of the Rainbow Conservation Camp Crew are female inmates commanded by CDF fire officers. The inmates wear orange wildland fire suits and officers wear yellow suits.

CDF operates 1,027 engines (338 state-funded and 689 locally funded engines), 103 rescue squads, 12 aerial ladder trucks, 58 bulldozer units, five mobile communications centers and 11 mobile kitchen units. CDF also funds 82 engines and 12 bulldozers used to protect State Responsibility Areas in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern and Marin. Today, CDF has contractual agreements with 33 of the 58 counties in California.

Air resources. CDF operates a large fleet of aircraft that includes seventeen 800-gallon air tankers, one 3,000-gallon and two 2,000-gallon contract air tankers, 13 smaller air-attack planes and 10 helicopters. Air attack is a vital part of the tactics and strategies used to surround, control and suppress wildland and SWI fires.

Emergency responses (other than fire). CDF responds to an average of 180,000 non-fire emergencies each year. CDF personnel provide aid and save lives of those in motor vehicle accidents, hazardous materials spills and other medical emergencies. Because of its size and experience in managing major incidents, CDF has been chosen to take the lead or play a major role with other agencies in the state during such disasters as the 1993 Northridge earthquake in Southern California, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the 1991 Cantara train derailment and toxic spill, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area. CDF was also working the floods of 1995 and the floods of the winter of 1996-97.

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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF Rockwell OV-10 Bronco is the Air Tactical Group supervisors' aircraft. A battalion fire chief flies with the pilot and coordinates air operations at an incident.


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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF Grumman S-2 Tracker carries 800 gallons of fire retardant for air drops. There are 17 such planes statewide.

Fire responses. The fire responses for 1996 totaled 21,553, which included structural, motor vehicle, grass, brush and forest fires located on CDF's direct responsibility and contractual properties. Between 1910 and 1993, 23 CDF firefighters died in the line of duty as a result of being overrun or entrapped by wildland fires.

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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF Bell UH1H Super-Huey transports a 10-12-person hand crew and carries a 780-gallon belly tank or Bambi-Bucket for liquid drops.

Fire prevention. CDF's Fire Prevention Program focuses on reducing the number of wildland fires and related damage through education, engineering and law enforcement. The department's "Fire Safe California" campaign targets the growing number of Californians who choose to live in SWI areas. The prevention staff inspects 50,000 properties annually. An important part of the program is the Volunteers In Prevention (VIP) program in which over 2,600 people participate in fire safety education programs and during emergencies assist through an amateur radio communications system. Prevention also takes place through the "prescribed burning" and other fuel reduction methods.

State Fire Marshal. The office of the State Fire Marshal is within CDF and actively supports CDF's Mission Statement to protect life and property through the development and application of fire protection engineering, enforcement and education. The fire prevention function is accomplished through several major programs including regional operations, pre-fire engineering, training, arson and bomb investigation, pipeline safety and fire incident reporting.

Research and technology. Safety is a top priority with CDF. There have been recent improvements in engines, helicopters, air attack planes, bulldozers, breathing apparatus, weather predictions, physical fitness programs and mapping of ongoing fires are the result of extensive research and analysis using the latest in technology. State-of-the-art computer systems let each CDF facility, from headquarters to fire stations, coordinate dispatching and access fire-weather reports to aircraft and fire crews statewide. Computer models also can predict fire behavior to allow incident commanders to determine what fire crews and equipment they need to fight fires safely.

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Photo Courtesy of CDF
CDF Model 15 wildland engine is a four-wheel-drive unit equipped with a 500-gallon tank and Class A foam system.


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Photo by Robert M. Winston
This CDF bulldozer unit, operating with one person, is a Caterpillar D/6 with an enclosed cab that is air conditioned and provides filtered fresh air. A small self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is provided for the operator as a means of emergency escape if overrun by fire. There are 65 such units statewide.

CDF Academy. This academy provides a central training facility for employees and cooperating agencies. Located in Ione, the academy offers over 45 courses covering fire protection and prevention, resource management and other services. CDF also operates three smaller training centers for the training of inmates and ward fire crews.

Vegetation management. CDF provides programs for forest pest (insects and disease) management. These vegetation ailments annually destroy 10 times the volume of timber that is lost due to forest fires. CDF also maintains a forest nursery system that can produce up to six million tree seedlings annually. The department administers several state and federal forestry assistance programs designed to improve the health and productivity of private forests. The CDF Strategic Planning Unit analyzes land use conditions, resource issues and policy options for the State Board of Forestry.

Special thanks to Area Fire Chief Mike Harris, Sierra-South Region, CDF, and Region OPS Chief Bob Martines for their assistance with this column.


Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district chief in the Boston Fire Department.

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