TURLOCK, Calif. (KTXL) — Turlock firefighters are used to battling flames but there’s another battle they’re up against: high turnover within the department.
Interim Fire Chief Gary Carlson told FOX40 his department has lost six firefighters in the last four years. Most have left for other departments.
“It’s been kind of a constant battle. You get somebody and train them up to this elite level and then that’s what makes them so attractive to the Bay Area departments that come in with their big checkbooks and take them from us,” said Carlson. “Bay Area departments, 80-90 miles away, typically will pay 50 to 60 percent more to starting firefighters. So, it’s a problem that I don’t believe is going to go away.”
Firefighter Union Vice President David Bickle said while it’s difficult to compete with Bay Area departments, city budget cuts also play a role.
“By cutting funding, by cutting available positions and then imposing a contract, to me, it’s just parts of a whole perfect storm,” said Bickle.
Bickle said the department has become a revolving door and it’s always bittersweet to see someone go.
“I’m happy that they’re able to make something else, that they’re going to go to an organization where they can make more money and maybe have more opportunities. But I’m sad for me and my organization because these are quality individuals that are leaving,” said Bickle.
Carlson said the department will hire four new firefighters this summer but said it can be hard to find people willing to stay in Turlock long term.
“It’s difficult, from my perspective, just trying to find local residents that want to be firefighters, that are engaged in the community, you know, homegrown. That are willing to take a little bit less and stay here to become a part of the community rather than doing that commute,” said Carlson
The interim chief said the remaining fighters will work overtime until those positions are filled.
FOX40 reached out to the city for comment but have yet to receive a response.