Tucson-area fire crews battle fires, staffing shortages

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:46 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Fire crews are calling it an early fire season and along with several fires breaking out, it is going to be an even longer fire season.

As you know, shortages are happening all over the country. It is the same situation in Southern Arizona with firefighters.

“For us, we do both obviously. We have a wild land division, but we also have to serve our community,” said Deputy Chief Mike Urbanski.

Urbanski, with Rio Rico Fire District, said he has never seen a shortage like this. Staffing now is quite the balancing act.

“It is a little difficult at times to make ends meet and send wild land crews while supporting the region and other agencies nationwide while there are fires burning across the country,” he said.

But they are making it work with local and wildland.

“Currently we have two crews out. Both type-6 engines. One is at the Big Valley Fire near Three Points and we have one at the San Rafael Fire,” Urbanski said.

Rio Rico is not the one facing this type of shortage.

Tucson Fire has a fire captain out at the San Rafael fire. Rincon Valley Fire District has crews out in New Mexico. Rural Metro is keeping their staff local.

Deputy Chief Urbanski said staffing needs must met at the local level before they can send firefighters to state and federal assignments. He said Monday was a perfect example.

“We had a local brush fire which we have to commit all our resources to. If we did not have the staffing for that, then it could have gotten much worse. But it did not because we had the staffing,” he said.

At the federal level, bipartisan infrastructure law requires an increase in base salary for wildland firefighters of 50% or at least $20,000, for crews in areas where it is difficult to recruit or retain staff.

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