Last year's Soberanes Fire, one of the largest wildfires in California history, claimed the life of a bulldozer operator and seriously injured a water tender driver who were hired as private contractors by Cal Fire. These incidents have sparked interest in the wildfire gig economy and the potentially deadly conditions workers face with few or no basic protections.
Trial Team Leader Craig Peters spoke with KQED to discuss the issues that contracted heavy equipment operators face, including a lack of workplace protections or legal recourse in the event of an accident. "This is no different [than what Uber and Lyft workers are experiencing], what's happening with these guys. It just didn't happen to occur through a smartphone," explained Peters.
Private contractors are required to provide copies of their workers' compensation coverage by Cal Fire or the Forest Service. However, many of the contractors either didn't have the documentation or it was expired. In the wake of the Soberanes incidents, the State of California, Cal Fire, and the private contracting company that employed the bulldozer operator are now facing several lawsuits and Cal/OSHA citations.