U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, with Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California, fired off a letter to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho on Tuesday.
They want the interagency to resume publishing firefighter training materials in Spanish, and walk back a 2016 decision to discontinue translations long-used to train entry-level firefighters.
“Given that a significant number of these brave wildland fire crew speak Spanish as their native language, it would be wiser and safer to provide bilingual training materials,” the senators’ letter states.
The training materials help new firefighters with public agencies and those working through private contracts get the same information. OPB first reported last month that Spanish translations of basic training courses were quietly discontinued in 2016, about a decade after they were introduced. Federal fire managers said there wasn’t enough demand to update the texts.
“[We] weren’t getting the number of requests in Spanish as in English. And it wasn’t economically feasible to do both,” said Jessica Gardetto, deputy chief of external affairs for the National Interagency Fire Center.
She said it’s up to private contractors if they want to train and hire firefighters who communicate in Spanish. Those crews must have bilingual bosses, while all official communication on the fireline is in English.
“And contractors have the ability to pay for these [translations] to be updated if they want, but they would rather have the federal agencies pay for it,” Gardetto said.
That’s exactly what a trade association representing 20 wildland fire contractors is planning to do, said Dillon Sanders, president of the Oregon Firefighting Contractors Association.
“But, we hope the government will do the right thing, so we don’t have to,” Sanders said.