BUSINESS + ECONOMY

Utah is struggling to retain its rural ‘Hotshots’

May 20, 2024, 9:00 AM | Updated: Jun 10, 2024, 1:39 pm

Rural wildlife firefighters, "Hot Shots"...

(Utah Division of Forestry, Fires and State Lands)

(Utah Division of Forestry, Fires and State Lands)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Division of Forestry, Fires and State Lands is struggling to fill rural wildfire firefighter jobs.

“Hotshots,” as these first responders are known, have to deal with several life factors before they battle any blaze. Division Personal Information Officer Hayli Guild says cost of living is high in areas they’re trying to fill. Qualified Hotshots may be turned off by that cost. 

“We, as a division don’t offer any moving bonuses or expenses. It’s really hard to get those types of folks.” Guild said.

Hurdles for rural wildlife firefighters

For example, Guild estimates the seasonal workforce at Lone Peak has a 60 – 65% retention range among hotshots. She said the division tries to be competitive with their pay, and legislation did up the salary.

Still, any salary change doesn’t become set in stone. Guild said that number could ebb and flow as people come and go between the division and federal agencies.

“We do try to make those type of exceptions where we can,” Guild said. “But again, it’s limited.”

In rural areas, the cost of living makes it harder to form a competitive wage. Much of the issue comes down to adaptability.

“Whatever the economy does, we are going to have to adjust and make those changes.”

Despite the uncertainty, Guild said the division has a reputation of stepping up for its employees.

“Our leadership has gone to bat for us several times in the last several years, and I know they’re supportive of growing and seeing our people be happy.”

In the meantime, the best thing the average Utahn can do is continue to prevent wildfires.

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Utah is struggling to retain its rural ‘Hotshots’