For other uses of "CDF", see CDF (disambiguation).
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE)
Established 1885
Staffing Career
Strength 4,700 permanent
3,100 seasonal
4,300 inmates
8,200 volunteers[1]
Stations 228 owned/operated
575 operated
Engines 336 owned/operated
759 operated
Trucks 38
Rescues 215
Bulldozers 58
Airplanes 23 air tankers
13 tactical planes
Helicopters 11 helicopters
EMS Units 63 paramedic units
Fire chief Ken Pimlott

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF, or CAL FIRE) is the State of California's agency responsible for fire protection in State Responsibility Areas of California as well as the administration of the state's private and public forests. It is often called the California Department of Forestry, which was the name of the department before the 1990s.[2] They also provide firefighting capability to prevent and extinguish wildfires in the state's forests. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is also the largest full service all risk fire department in the Western United States and operates more fire stations year round than do the New York (FDNY), Los Angeles (LAFD), and Chicago (CFD) fire departments combined.


CAL FIRE is a department of the California Resources Agency, a state cabinet-level department that also comprises the California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Department of Water Resources. The men and women of CAL FIRE are dedicated to the fire protection and stewardship of over 31 million acres of California's privately owned wildlands. In addition, the Department provides varied emergency services in 36 of the State's 58 counties via contracts with local governments.

The Department's firefighters, fire engines, and aircraft respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. Those fires burn more than 172,000 acres annually. Along with over 300,000 annual calls for service, only 2% of which are wildland fires. CAL FIRE also uses inmate handcrews in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to assist with fire suppression and logistics. CAL FIRE works with employees of California Conservation Corps for logistics and vegetation management. Programs to control wood boring insects and diseases of trees are under forestry programs managed by CAL FIRE. The vehicle fleet is managed from an office in Davis, California.[3] The Department's Director is Ken Pimlott, who was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.[4]

CAL FIRE operations can be viewed as fitting into two categories: Schedule "A" and Schedule "B". Schedule "B" is defined as Resources Agency/CAL FIRE-funded, it is the wildland side of CAL FIRE primarily responsible for protecting the SRA. Schedule "A" activities include county and municipal fire departments, as well as fire protection districts run by CAL FIRE under contracts with local governments. From north to south, Butte, Napa, San Mateo, Tuolumne, Merced, San Luis Obispo, and Riverside counties are examples of county fire departments operated by CAL FIRE under contract. Another commonly heard CAL FIRE term is SRA which refers to State Responsibility Area: lands or area for which CAL FIRE has the primary responsibility to manage the public safety during a fire incident.

Starting on January 24, 2007, CDF has changed its "informal" name to CAL FIRE. The purpose is to bring CAL FIRE's name in line with other state agencies such as Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) and Cal Boating (California Department of Boating and Waterways).


Firefighters employed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are represented by CDF Firefighters IAFF Local 2881,[5] which represents 4,000 members within CDF Firefighters and is also associated with the California Professional Firefighters (CPF)[6] and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).[7]


Part of a series on
Main articles

Firestorm · Peat fire · Wildfire · Wildfire suppression

Tactics & Equipment

Aerial firefighting · Brush Truck · Controlled burn · Driptorch · Fire apparatus · Firebreak · Fire fighting foam · Fire hose · Fire lookout tower · Fire retardant · Fire-retardant gel · Fire trail · Helicopter bucket · Hose Pack · Pulaski · Wildland fire engine · Wildland fire tender


Engine crew · Handcrew · Helitack · Hotshots · Smokejumper · Rappeller

By country



List of wildfires
Glossary of wildfire terms

The CAL FIRE website states: "The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection serves and safeguards the people and protects the property and resources of California."

Organizational structure

The largest and most visible part of CDF operations is fire suppression. Operations are divided into 21 Operational Units, which geographically follow county lines. Each unit consists of the area of one to three counties. Operational Units are grouped under two regions: Coast-Cascade and Sierra-South.[3]

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is part of CDF and oversees activities including fire prevention, regulation of fire safety, and pipeline safety.[3] All gas cans sold in California, for example, must be approved by the Office of the State Fire Marshal and marked with the Office's seal.

CAL FIRE owns and operates its own fleet of air tankers, air tactical aircraft and helicopters, which are managed under the Aviation Management Program, additional aviation resources are leased by the department when needed. The CAL FIRE Air Program is one of the largest non-military air programs in the country, consisting of 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers, 14 OV-10A airtactical aircraft and 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters. From the 13 air attack and nine helitack bases located statewide, aircraft can reach most fires within 20 minutes.[8]

A statewide CAL FIRE training academy is operated at Ione, east of Sacramento. The facility is contiguous to Mule Creek State Prison.[2][3] All CAL FIRE employees go through the CAL FIRE academy once they are promoted past the Firefighter I classification.

Operational Units

Operational Units are organizations designed to address fire suppression over a geographic area. They vary widely in size and terrain.

For example, Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Operational Unit encompasses three rural counties and consists of eight fire stations, one Helitack Base, three conservation camps and an inmate firefighter training center. Fire suppression resources include 13 front-line fire engines, 1 helicopter, 3 bulldozers and 14 inmate fire crews. The unit shares an interagency emergency command center with federal agencies including the US Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. An interagency center contributes to economies of scale, supports cooperation, and lends itself to a more seamless operation. The area has fragmented jurisdictions across a large rural area along the Nevada and Oregon state lines.[9]

Riverside Operational Unit by itself is one of the largest fire departments in the nation, with 95 fire stations and about 230 pieces of equipment. The Riverside Operational Unit operates the Riverside County Fire Department under contract as well operates eighteen city fire departments and one community services district fire department. Nine of these stations belong to the state, with rest owned by the respective local government entity. The unit operates its own emergency command center in Perris. Terrain served includes urban and suburban areas of the Inland Empire and communities in the metropolitan Palm Springs area. The area includes forested mountains, the Colorado River basin, the Mojave Desert and Interstate 10.[10]

Northern Region-

  • Mendocino Unit
  • San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit
  • Santa Clara Unit (including Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and parts of San Joaquin, and Stanislaus Counties)
  • Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit (including Colusa, Yolo and Solano Counties)
  • Humboldt-Del Norte Unit
  • Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit (Including Sutter and Sierra Counties)
  • Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Unit (Including Plumas County as of June 2008)
  • Amador-El Dorado Unit (Including Sacramento and Alpine Counties)
  • Shasta-Trinity Unit
  • Siskiyou Unit
  • Tehama-Glenn Unit
  • Butte Unit

Southern Region-

  • San Luis Obispo Unit
  • San Diego Unit (Including Imperial County)
  • San Bernardino Unit (Including Inyo and Mono Counties)
  • Riverside Unit
  • Fresno-Kings Unit
  • Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit
  • San Benito-Monterey Unit
  • Tulare Unit
  • Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit (Including portions of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Alpine counties)

The counties of Marin, Kern, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange are paid by Cal Fire to provide fire protection to state responsibility areas within those counties rather than Cal Fire providing direct fire protection, and are commonly known as the "Contract Counties".

Lawmakers in Sacramento have mandated that every Operational Unit develop and implement an annual fire management plan. The plan will develop cooperation and community programs to reduce damage from, and costs of, fires in California.[11] One metric used by fire suppression units is initial attack success: fires stopped by the initial resources, (equipment and people,) sent to the incident.[12]

Air Program

The CAL FIRE Aviation Management Program is a branch of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Due to the frequency and severity of wildfires in California, the state has elected to establish its own aerial firefighting force rather than rely solely on national resources. The Aviation Management Program is based at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento, California.

In support of its ground forces, CAL FIRE emergency response air program includes 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers, eleven UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, and 14 OV-10A airtactical aircraft. These aircraft are stationed at 13 air attack and nine helitack bases located statewide, and can reach most fires within 20 minutes. During high fire activity, CAL FIRE may move aircraft to better provide statewide air support.

The airtactical planes fly overhead at a fire, directing the airtankers and helicopters to critical areas of the fire for retardant and water drops. The retardant used to slow or retard the spread of a fire is a slurry mix consisting of a chemical salt compound, water, clay or a gum-thickening agent, and a coloring agent. While both air tankers and helicopters are equipped to carry fire retardant or water, the helicopters can also transport firefighters, equipment and injured personnel. The average annual budget of the CAL FIRE Aviation Management Program is nearly $20 million. A total of 18 CAL FIRE personnel oversee the program with an additional 130 contract employees providing mechanical, pilot and management services.


CAL FIRE uses various apparatus to accomplish their daily responses. Engines fall under two categories, either being state owned—mostly wildland, or city/county owned, which CAL FIRE operates under contract.

For the wildland portion, most engines are manufactured with International chassis. Commonly seen models of wildland engines include the Model 5, 9, 14, and 15. CDF Models 24 and 25 were test-bed models, with only a few of each model fielded. The newest versions of these engines are CDF model 34 (4WD) and 35 (2WD), manufactured by Placer Fire Equipment, Rosenbauer, and HME. Model 34/35's are currently being fielded statewide. As of 2009 Model 35's have been discontinued and Model 34's from HME Apparatus are the new standard. Fact sheets on all of CAL FIRE's current-service Type 3 (wildland) engine models can be found on the CAL FIRE web site under Mobile Equipment.

Most type I and II engines that are operated under contract are Westates bodies on HME(formerly Hendrickson) 1871 Series chassis, the same configuration used by the California Office of Emergency Services (OES) engines that are distributed throughout the state.

CAL FIRE has contracted with 10 Tanker Air Carrier for three years' of exclusive use of their DC-10 "super tanker" known as Tanker 910, at a cost of $5 million per year.[13]


CDF uses several enterprise IT systems to manage operations. Altaris CAD, a computer-assisted dispatch system made by Northrop Grumman, is employed by each unit's Emergency Command Center (ECC) to track available resources and assignments.[4] Each Operational Unit has a stand-alone system which includes detailed address and mapping information.[14] Information about fires is batch-uploaded into a statewide statistical analysis system which is used to drive improvements to fire suppression and prevention. Resource Ordering Status System is used to cooperatively manage equipment and staff from other agencies at campaign-type fires.

The three largest state government land-mobile radio systems would include California Highway Patrol, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Any of these three systems might be considered largest depending on what constitutes the factors of "largest." If some combination of the number of mobiles, overall number of transmitters, total number of users, annual number of incidents, number of radio transmissions carried, or geographic area served were considerations, one of these three would be largest.

CDF is a major user on the State of California, Department of General Services, Public Safety Microwave Network (PSMN). The network is used for the state's Green Phone telephone network, a telephone system used for communications between public safety agencies. The system primarily serves state agencies. Intercoms between ECCs use audio paths supported by microwave radio. These intercoms usually appear as circuits on communications consoles in dispatching centers.

Aircraft are a prominent feature of CDF, especially during the summer fire season. Both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are employed.[15] Helicopters, or rotary-wing aircraft, are used to transport firefighting hand crews into fire areas. They also drop water and retardant chemicals on fires. Fixed-wing aircraft are used for command, observation, and to drop retardant chemicals on fires.[4]

Telecom history circa 1970

As of the early 1970s, CDF systems used VHF "high band" (151 MHz repeater/159 MHz mobile) stand-alone repeaters on State of California communications sites. CDF was an early adopter of hand held radios but the radios did not perform to modern public safety system standards. The systems served their purpose but were not originally engineered for hand held coverage because of the enormous coverage areas, the difficult terrain, and the lack of infrastructure to support a complex system. Sites had commercial power but many lacked reliable telephone lines or microwave radio connectivity. In terms of geography, CDF served mostly rural areas and the radio repeater sites to cover these areas were located in remote wilderness. Voting was in its infancy and, in CDF repeater systems, was unheard-of. Users understood this and used radios in entrepreneurial ways. For example, if an engine arriving at a fire could not find a spot where they had a radio path to reach dispatch, they would call another engine that could communicate and ask the staff to relay their message. The unit might see if they could get through by switching to an alternate channel, such as State net, which had repeaters at different sites, and consequently, a different coverage area.

The smallest geographic division of CDF Fire is the Operational Unit. Examples of Operational Units are Lassen-Modoc Operational Unit and Tuolumne-Calaveras Operational Unit. Operational Units are named for counties served. In the 1970s Operational Units were referred to as Ranger Units. Ranger Units were grouped into six CDF Regions, which may have been called Districts in earlier years. Radios were configured in a hierarchy with channel selections for Local (serving a Ranger Unit), District/Region, and State nets. By switching to the State channel, any two CDF radios statewide could communicate. Fire units from different Ranger Units but within the same district or region could communicate on the Region channel.


1970s CDF systems used single tone or tone burst to select repeaters. The system had five tones statewide, allowing up to five repeaters in overlapping radio coverage areas on the same channel. Tones used, in order from tone 1 through 5, were: 1,800 Hz, 1,950 Hz, 2,200 Hz, 2,400 Hz and 2,552 Hz. Station ringdowns and some volunteer sirens were actuated using a Motorola selective calling scheme called Quik Call I.

During the conversion from tone burst to CTCSS in the early 1980s, Department of General Services (DGS) technicians modified repeaters to work with either burst tones or CTCSS (sub-audible) tones. This allowed repeaters to be used with either type of signaling as the tone burst mobiles were swapped out for newer models.


Like most State equipment, CDF used a mix of radios from several manufacturers varying from one contract bid to the next. Scanning, selectable tone burst, six channel transmit, and three channel receive were beyond the capabilities of most off-the-shelf mobile radios in 1970. Custom-made General Electric MASTR Professional hybrid tube/solid state mobiles were bought in one early 1970s contract. CDF was an early adopter of scanning: this radio incorporated General Electric's scanning feature, called Priority Search Lock Monitor.[16] Many of the CDF repeaters in service in 2009 are GE/MA-COM Mastr III synthesized base stations.

In the 1970s, at least some CDF repeaters were RCA Series 1000 units. These had solid state receivers and exciters with continuous duty tube final power amplifiers. They produced transmitter output powers in the range of 100-120 watts.

The earliest fully solid state mobile radios were used in the CTCSS conversion. They were 99-channel Midland radios. An early 1980s discovery was that users had to carry cards with lists of the channels. The radios had many channels and no alphanumeric display describing who you would talk to when the display said channel 65, for example. The Midland mobiles used flat, computer-hard-disk-style ribbon cable to connect the control head on the vehicle dash with the radio unit drawer. To improve reliability, some units used segments of discarded inch-and-a-half hose as a jacket to protect the easily abraded ribbon cable.

Current CAL FIRE radio equipment in use is the Kenwood TK-790 mobile radio with a CDF-custom firmware package giving 254-channel capability, plus the ability to create a 'command group' for incident frequency management in one bank. Bendix-King GPH-CMD portable radios (HT's) give the same functionality in a 500-channel handheld. All older mobile and portable radios, including older BK EPH portables, either have been or are in process of being phased out, due to the pending requirement for all public safety radio nets to be narrow-banded.


Hearing a distant voice from a radio speaker, it was unclear what path the caller was using to reach you. This was especially true of dispatch consoles, which routed audio from many channels to one or two speakers. Radio protocol provided that users announce which channel and tone they were using in order that the called party would answer on the same channel and tone. A typical transmission where an engine was calling, preparing to tell something to dispatch, might be phrased, "San Andreas, Engine Forty Four Sixty Six, Local Net, Tone One." This cued the San Andreas dispatcher to manually select Local, Tone One or L1 to answer.

Law Enforcement

To enforce state fire and forest laws, CAL FIRE Law Enforcement officers are trained and certified in accordance with the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The Department's 300 plus officers are busy year round investigating fire causes, interviewing witnesses, issuing citations and setting up surveillance operations. Additionally, law enforcement staff provides assistance when requested by local fire and law enforcement agencies in arson, bomb, fireworks, and fire extinguisher investigations, as well as disposal of explosives. Office of the State Fire Marshal Arson and Bomb Specialists provide fire and bomb investigation services to state-owned facilities, and provide assistance to local government fire and law agencies. The Department's investigators have a very successful conviction rate.


Chief Ken Pimlott was appointed as the Acting Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) on November 2, 2010. He is the third CAL FIRE director who came from within the CAL FIRE ranks and he is also California's State Forester. The first was Dick Ernest and the second was Del Walters.

Chief Pimlott has over 26 years of fire service experience, including 23 years with CAL FIRE. Prior to being appointed, Pimlott was the Deputy Director of Fire Protection, responsible for CAL FIRE’s statewide fire protection programs, including Command and Control Operations, Cooperative Fire Protection, Conservation Camps, Fleet Management, Aviation Management, Training and Safety.

During Chief Pimlott’s career, he has risen through the ranks, beginning as a seasonal fire fighter in Tulare Unit in 1987. He has held a variety of resource management and fire protection positions within the department, including Pre-fire Management Division Chief, Fire Chief for the City of Moreno Valley and program manager for CAL FIRE’s Cooperative Fire Protection Programs.

Prior to his current assignment, Chief Pimlott served in executive management at the Assistant Deputy Director level, overseeing CAL FIRE’s fire protection operations, cooperative fire, training and safety programs.

He recently served as co-chair of the 2010 Strategic Fire Plan Steering Committee within the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection and represents CAL FIRE on the California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee Board of Directors.

Chief Pimlott has well rounded experience in fire protection at the operational and program levels within CAL FIRE. He holds an Associate of Arts Degree in Fire Technology from American River College, a Bachelors Degree in Forest Resource Management from Humboldt State University and is a registered professional forester.

See also

Fire portal
California portal


External links

  • Cal Fire News - California fire news, Maps, Photos
  • Cal Fire streaming radio - live scanner and fire weather