Tuesday, August 27, 2013

NPR highlights role of elite Native American firefighters

Kirk Seigler reports today on the Geronimo Hotshots' participation in fighting the Rim Fire, the massive wildfire raging outside Yosemite National Park in central California.   The Geronimo Hotshots are based on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in nonmetropolitan Gila County, Arizona.  Seigler notes that fighting fires is one of few ways for young men here and on similar reservations to earn a living.  Members of these elite crews, who are hardly home at all over the summer as they are dispatched from fire to fire around the West, earn up to $40,000 a year.  As Seigler notes, that goes a long way on a high-poverty Indian reservation.  Seigler provides this vignette:
The only restaurant in town is the San Carlos Cafe. It's in a worn stone building built by the U.S. government at the turn of the 20th century. The menu on the wall features the hot shot breakfast burrito. The owner, Jo Lazo, says the firefighters are looked up to here. 
"I like to say our Apache men are the strongest of all firefighters. I think it just goes down through genealogy and the struggle that we had many, many years ago. We never go down without a fight," she says. 
Lazo is proud and pragmatic. The Hotshot crew members are regulars here, and that's good for business. But the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs also employ hundreds more seasonal firefighters. During a big fire year, everyone has more money in his or her pocket, including Lazo. Her cafe caters all the meals for the crews if there's a wildfire near here. 
"And it's sad when there is a fire because we do lose a lot of vegetation, but it's essential and it's been essential for years," Lazo says.
Seigler quotes Jose Alvarez Santi, Jr., 25, who says the work is rewarding, but being away from home can be tough.  Santi has a three-year-old son.  
I don't really see it as a job.  Being out away from my family — that's the part that I'm down about, is just being away.

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