Victorville awards first fire academy scholarship amid wildland firefighter shortage

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Victorville awards first recipients of new fire academy scholarship amid wildland firefighter shortage
Photo credit: City of Victorville

VICTORVILLE – The city of Victorville in partnership with Victor Valley College (VVC) Foundation, announced Wednesday, they awarded fire academy scholarships to VVC students Maurice Buckner and Austin Almendarez. The scholarship program aims to help develop future firefighters.

Buckner and Almendarez each received $4,000 from the City of Victorville to cover all expenses associated with the Fire Academy such as tuition, uniforms, gear, certifications, books, and other fees.

“The City of Victorville is investing in these scholarships as part of a broader effort to attract and retain top talent,” said Victorville Fire Chief Brian Fallon. “We take seriously our responsibility to develop future fire service leaders to provide top quality public safety services for our growing community.”

There are currently no recent job postings in the High Desert area for entry-level firefighters, however, several agencies are hiring for wildland firefighters.

According to Wildfire Today, the number of wildland firefighters has declined by 20% over the last two years in California. Difficulty in hiring and experienced firefighters leaving the organization for better pay and working conditions are the causes adding to the number of growing vacancies.

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Most entry-level wildland firefighter positions, until recently, started at $15 per hour and officials acknowledge it does not reflect the risk or physical demands of the work. In June 2022, the US Forest Service and Interior agencies announced that a salary increase by the lesser of $20,000 or 50 percent of base would be funded for fiscal years 2022 through 2026. 

Wildland Defense Systems, a private company, provides fire service on behalf of the insurance industry, covering a 20 state region. They currently are accepting applications for their 2023 season in eight of their Regional Coordination Centers including Riverside. Starting salary is $25 an hour.

Firefighter certifications are still required for the private company.

For more information about the Victor Valley College Fire Academy visit https://www.vvc.edu/fire-technology-program

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