County supervisors support proposal for stipends, more training for volunteer firefighters

The San Diego County Administration Center.
The San Diego County Administration Center.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a proposal that would incentivize more people to become volunteer reserve firefighters, introducing stipends and training


The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, July 18, to advance a proposal that would expand opportunities for volunteer reserve firefighters, including stipends and training.

Supervisors will consider formally approving the ordinance on Aug. 29.

Proposed changes also include “establishing new opportunities to join the Volunteer Reserve Firefighter Program, formalizing training opportunities with established high school fire and emergency medical services programs, and engaging with rural and diverse high school students,” according to information on the county board agenda.

Holly Porter, deputy chief administrative officer, said the amended ordinance will strengthen the career path for those wanting to be volunteer firefighters.

“We have the opportunity to enhance the diversity of our firefighting workforce, so that it better represents the communities served in our region,” Porter said.

Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham said the department is proposing stipends of $192 per shift for restricted volunteer reservists and $384 per shift for those who are full volunteers.

Stipends for those serving in other volunteer firefighting roles range from $95 to $145.

Mecham said the county’s goal is to double volunteer firefighting staff to 60. County officials also proposed educational partnerships with Southwest College and Ramona High School.

County Fire Director Jeff Collins said that in early 2013, the county had 19 volunteer fire stations with a goal of having three volunteers per engine year-round.

That model wasn’t sustainable, so the county expanded its agreement with Cal Fire to staff those stations, Collins added. Collins added volunteers gain valuable experience working alongside their Cal Fire colleagues and attend courses.

If supervisors vote to amend the ordinance, it will cost the county $300,000 in the 2023-24 fiscal year for participant stipends, training and community outreach to encourage residents to become firefighters.

All four supervisors lauded efforts to attract more people to the firefighting community.

Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas said stipends will make a huge difference to young people wanting to serve their communities. She thanked county fire officials for “thinking outside the box,’’ and creating a more resilient workforce.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said more opportunities for volunteer firefighters also add to the overall career pipeline. Supervisor Joel Anderson said he was grateful the plan is moving forward as wildfire season gets underway.