Tribal fire departments are an integral part of California’s wildfire defense. The growing cooperation between Cal Fire, and local and tribal fire departments throughout California is testimony to the dedication of our first responders who safeguard our lives and our homes every day.
San Diego County has 18 Indian Reservations, more than any other county in the nation. Six of those lie within the current boundaries of the 75th Assembly District, which I represent in Sacramento. Due to redistricting, the boundaries of the 75th District are expanding to include most of East San Diego County, including all the Indian reservations within the County’s borders. Many of these tribal governments have established fire departments dedicated to serving not only their home jurisdictions, but surrounding communities as well.
California’s mutual aid firefighting system ensures that tribal fire agencies stand side-by-side with state and local fire departments during wildfire emergencies. Many tribal fire departments report that a large number of their emergency calls involve incidents off the reservation. Obviously, firefighters employed by tribal fire departments deserve the same survivor benefits families of other first responders enjoy. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.
When firefighters are killed or disabled in the line of duty, their dependents are entitled to college scholarships through existing workers’ compensation benefit programs. But until now, employees of tribal fire departments have not been included. My bill, AB 2661, fixes that by ensuring that tribal firefighters’ families will also be eligible for scholarships. The bill is supported by the California Forestry Association, and tribal governments, including the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians. AB 2661 passed the Legislature without opposition, and was signed into law by the Governor July 1st.
Tribal firefighters, along with their firefighting brethren throughout California, always answer the call when the alarm sounds. Passage of AB 2661 is a big step in the right direction.