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Washington state fire officials seek to hire 100 wildland firefighters

Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio

But they're finding the competition among fire agencies is fierce.

Washington state fire officials say they expect to hire 100 more wildland firefighters to battle flames this summer. But, as in many other industries, they’re finding it’s not so easy to attract qualified people.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has more money for firefighters as part of a forest health bill approved last year by the legislature.

Agency spokesman Thomas Kyle-Milward says the legislature last year allocated more money for firefighters. It was part of a forest health bill, known as HB1168.

“1168 really enabled us to, frankly, promote a bunch of personnel we already had and it’s created a bit of a brain drain where we’ve elevated a bunch of employees and so you’re sort of filling in that gap," he said.

But more money hasn’t yet translated into more seasonal firefighters.

“We are competing with a bunch of other entities for personnel and it’s not just firefighters. We count on heavy equipment operators. We count on support staff in other industries becoming more and more competitive for those additional personnels," Kyle-Milward said.

He says the state has promoted many people from its existing teams to more senior positions, leaving it thin in the entry level jobs. He says the agency doesn’t believe applicants are deterred by the requirement that state firefighters be vaccinated for Covid.

State officials say they expect to deploy 120 fire engines to battle wildfires this summer. That’s the same number of rigs DNR has had available the last several years.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.