Senator Leyva Urges Governor Brown to Sign Firefighter Wildfire Impacts Legislation

SB 774 Will Help Protect Firefighters and Better Combat Wildfires

Friday, August 31, 2018

SACRAMENTO – As firefighters continue to bravely fight wildfires across California, the Legislature today approved bipartisan legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that will improve efforts to protect and support firefighters, their health, and their ability to combat wildfires.   SB 774 will improve knowledge of strategies to minimize and mitigate health and safety risks experienced by firefighters in the wildland urban interface (WUI), areas where human development and housing meet undeveloped wildland vegetation.

“These brave firefighters helping to protect our families, homes, and communities deserve as much support as possible from policymakers and the public at large,” Senator Leyva said. “It’s clear that firefighters on the front lines of these historic wildfires are suffering unimaginable hardships, both in the short and long term. California needs to examine the best strategies to support and protect our firefighters working under these very strenuous conditions. Experts have already told us that these wildfires will likely only continue to increase in scope and intensity in the near future, so it’s critical that we work to minimize firefighter health and safety risks moving forward so they can remain safe as they courageously fight these destructive fires. My colleagues and I urge Governor Brown to sign this important legislation that will go a long way toward helping firefighters as they continue to face unprecedented dangers in current and future California wildfires.”

In 2018 alone, more than 13,000 firefighters have responded to fires across the state. With so many simultaneous large wildfires, many firefighters are being pushed to their physical and emotional limits working long shifts in extreme heat and increasingly dangerous situations. Unfortunately, fighting fires in areas in the WUI is one of the least understood hazardous occupations.  Six firefighters have already tragically died in the line of duty: three in the Carr Fire, two in the Ferguson Fire, and one in the Mendocino Complex Fire. Many more firefighters have been physically and psychologically injured as the scope and magnitude of these wildfires have continued to increase.

Jointly authored by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), SB 774 is critically important in communities across California, particularly regions devastated by multiple fires in recent years.

“I’ve seen firsthand the terrible toll California’s wildland fires are having on our communities. These same challenges have now extended to those who are sworn to protect our communities in our greatest times of need, our brave firefighters. These men and women are spending weeks on the fire lines month after month, facing unrelenting conditions and the physical and emotional stress is taking its toll. We’re grateful to work with Senator Leyva on SB 774, which advances a desperately needed study on the physical and mental impacts prolonged deployments and on the job stress are having on America’s finest firefighting force,” said Senator Mike McGuire.

California is at a continued high risk of larger devastating fires due to intense droughts, vast amount of dry vegetation, and high winds. In recent years, California has experienced several of its biggest fires in its history, including the Mendocino Complex fire that is now the largest in California history, with over 400,000 acres already burned.  

SB 774 will provide funding and specific research criteria to develop strategies to minimize health and safety risks experienced by firefighters and improve their effectiveness in combating fires in the WUI. The research would specifically focus on improving strategies to protect firefighter health and safety in the field, identifying short and long term health risks, advancing effective ways to combat wildfires and protect communities, understanding the best equipment and tools to protect and support firefighters and developing best methods to educate and train both firefighters and the general public.

Sponsored jointly by California Professional Firefighters and CAL FIRE Local 2881, SB 774 is coauthored by Senator Dr. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), Assemblymember Heath Flora (R-Ripon) and Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).