9NEWS gets the same question each time a large wildfire dominates headlines and fire crews come in from out of state: what happens if a bad fire burns in that department’s area while their crews are out of town?
“Home always comes first so an agency won’t send firefighters or equipment anywhere else if it means depleting the home service first,” Einar Jensen, risk reduction specialist with South Metro Fire, said.
Jensen said departments have algorithms to ensure they have full staffing.
“The code of the West is that when my neighbor, whether they’re next door or down the road or across the road or in another state, when my neighbor needs help, if we have the resources we’re going to send resources to help that neighbor,” Jensen said.
But that question also made us wonder about something. How many firefighters are here in Colorado on a regular basis?
The number was tough to come by. The state’s division of fire prevention and control stopped tracking the number a few years ago.
The state’s firefighter’s union, Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, had the most complete data for us, but it was from 2016.
Back then, the state had about 11,500 firefighters, according to CPFF. About 5,200 were career firefighters, 600 worked as paid reserve on-call, and 5,700 were volunteers.
“These are men and women who respond to that 911 call and they’re not getting paid to be there,” Jensen said. He added that volunteers are often the first on the frontlines of wild land fires.
According to the state’s department of labor and employment, the number of career firefighters grew to 5,480 in 2017.
About 5,600 firefighters have their red cards in Colorado, according to CPFF. The red card means those firefighters are certified to fight wildland fires.