‘It’s a tough, thankless job’: Young firefighters on the frontlines of California wildfires

profile photo
By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

The young firefighters in training are part of the California Conservation Corps, the oldest and largest conservation corps in the United States.

PLACER COUNTY, Calif. — Every year, firefighters battle relentless wildfires in California both on the ground and in the skies.

Fire departments and Cal Fire take the call to action, along with teams of young firefighters in training. They’re with the California Conservation Corps, the oldest and largest conservation corps in the United States.

About 1,600 members are stationed across the state. The CCC has a number of responsibilities, including emergency response and natural resource conservation. 

The CCC works with state and federal partners to run more than two dozen wildland firefighting hand crews. The hand crews respond to California wildfires.

“Seeing flames in your face is kind of scary. You kind of just put that aside,” said Corpsmember Serra Davidsson. “Let’s take control of the fire, not let the fire take control of us.”

Davidsson recently joined one of the Conservation Corps’ fire crews. She says she helps lead the crew, made up of members who are typically 18 to 25-years-old.

When they get the call, they head out with hand tools and chainsaws to stop the spread of wildfires.

“Sometimes it’s hard. It’s hard to keep going, but if I think about, ‘oh, I’m helping people, I’m helping the forest,’ it helps me keep pushing,” Davidsson said.

Corpsmembers go through physical training and work with heavy equipment. They must pass tests to earn wildland fire certifications.

“I’m not going to lie, it is a tough job. It’s a tough, thankless job,” said CCC Director JP Patton. “They can be on an emergency or a fire for 24 hours at a time. What these young folks do is they get to the places where the equipment can’t go, so it’s really grueling hard work, but it’s also very beneficial and they feel very accomplished when they’re done with it.”

Davidsson knows the feeling well after helping fight fires last season. She’s one of few women who joined the fire crews. In total, the CCC is made up of about 75% men.

“I feel like it’s a very male-dominated job, but it doesn’t need to be. I can keep up with the rest of the crew, all the guys. We all get along, we all do the same work,” Davidsson said. “It would be great to see more females on fire crews.”

Originally from Southern California, Davidsson is now stationed north of Auburn in Placer County. The center works with Cal Fire to operate two wildland firefighting hand crews year-round.

CCC crews have been on the frontlines of major California wildfires, including the Dixie Fire and Caldor Fire in 2021. They also responded to the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in 2018.

“Not only were our young corps members out there fighting the fire, but they were directly impacted by the fire as well. In fact, one young corpsmember, a female who lost her home while she was serving in the CCC, but the CCC and the corpsmembers are resilient people and you can count on us to be there for the next one,” said Patton.

Corpsmembers typically serve one year. Many members go on to become career firefighters working for Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and local departments.

While the work may be grueling and thankless at times, their call to action helps protect the communities they serve.

California residents can join the CCC if they are between the ages of 18 to 25-years-old or military veterans up to 29. They don’t need prior experience and get paid. 

The director told ABC10 they help corpsmembers earn their high school diploma and further their education. Click here to learn more about the CCC.

| California’s Climate Conversation: Wildfire, heat waves and the weather future ahead

[embedded content]
author photo
About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.