With Illegal Immigrants Fighting Wildfires, West Faces a Dilemma, By KIRK JOHNSON, May 28, 2006
SALEM, Ore. The debate over immigration, which has filtered into almost every corner of American life in recent months, is now sweeping through the woods, and the implications could be immense for the upcoming fire season in the West...
As many as half of the roughly 5,000 private firefighters based in the Pacific Northwest and contracted by state and federal governments to fight forest fires are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. And an untold number of them are working here illegally....
Other forestry workers say that firefighting may simply be too important —and too difficult to attract other applicants —to allow for a crackdown on illegal workers.
Being a fireman is a job Americans don't want to do? Oh, man, haven't they ever heard of the thousands of volunteer fire departments? Haven't they ever seen the long lines of applicants for paying fireman jobs? Haven't they ever watched little boys stare in awe at firemen?
Here's part of a Sacramento Bee article on the incompetents we have recently begun to send out to fight fires:
Untrained migrants fight fires: Inexperienced, undocumented hired by private contractors. By Tom Knudson — Sacramento Bee, May 7, 2006
As bright orange embers lofted through the forest, exploding into columns of smoke and flame, Mike Sulffridge and his crew of firefighters began to scramble. Their lives were in danger.
But the reaction of six Latino firefighters working near them could not have been more different. Despite the advancing flames, despite a volley of warning shouts, they did nothing.
"They did not understand English," said Sulffridge, who was hired to battle the wildfire in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah in 2000. "They did not understand what the fire was doing."
Ultimately, the men were rescued. But the fire took a toll. One man was burned badly across his face. "In another few seconds, those guys would have been burned up," Sulffridge said. "They would have died."
Firefighting has always been dangerous. But today, with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies hiring more private contractors to do the work, a different kind of firefighter is in harm's way: migrant workers who have minimal experience and training, speak little or no English and often are in the country illegally.
Public records offer a glimpse of what crew inspectors have documented: underage workers, counterfeit IDs, falsified training records, a van roll-over, broken and dangerous tools, even a firefighter with only one lung who "went into convulsions ... and was having difficulty breathing," as one federal inspector in Washington put it.