Humboldt Bay Fire in action. | Photo by reader Luke A.

Humboldt Bay Fire is experiencing a “significant and unprecedented” staffing shortage. With 10 vacant staff positions, Chief Sean Robertson says the department has implemented a temporary rotating closure – also called a brownout – of one station per day.

“[The staffing shortage] has required us to shift to a four station model, away from our regular five station deployment…because we’re just unable to fill enough of our promoted positions on a consistent basis to be able to maintain our fire station deployment,” Robertson told the Eureka City Council during a staffing update on Tuesday evening. “We had five personnel leave for other agencies last year – excuse me, last week. Most notably, three captains and one battalion chief went to [the Arcata Fire District].”

[CLARIFICATION: Shortly after the publication of this story, Robertson contacted the Outpost to clarify that the four-station deployment model will be implemented “when needed.” He added that staffing would “fluctuate from three to five stations staffed daily based on available qualified personnel.”]

Robertson | Screenshot

Robertson attributed an undisclosed number of the vacancies to “significant, long-term workers comp injuries” but said he was optimistic that “those will be resolved by October 1” and Humboldt Bay Fire will resume five station deployment.

“We’ve been actively developing our personnel to step up into promoted positions through our acting positions,” he said. “We’re actively recruiting firefighters and we will be doing interviews next week. We’re also – for the first time ever – having an open test for engineers, captains and battalion chiefs. …Between those two things [we’re hoping] to develop more personnel who are already stepping up into these leadership roles.”

Councilmember Natalie Arroyo asked if the city could provide any additional support to the fire station or help with messaging efforts. Pay is part of the issue, Robertson said. 

“Part of the reason, you know, five people left and potentially another one or two more are leaving in the next two months is [because] agencies across the state are hiring and they all pay very well compared to us,” he said. “That’s not a unique situation for Humboldt Bay Fire. …Supporting staff is what we can ask for and [we’re] looking forward to continuing to make this a great [and competitive] place to work because the people who live here and work here are really committed to being here.”

City Manager Miles Slattery chimed in, noting that firefighters now have access to many of the benefits offered to other city employees, including family memberships for the Sequoia Park Zoo and the Adorni Center. “We’re working on some other programs that we’ll be discussing with the chief to try and help out as well,” he added.

The council agreed to accept the report but did not take a vote on the item.