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California Republican calls firefighters ‘unskilled labor’

A Republican congressman whose California district is under threat from wildfires has been blasted for calling firefighting “unskilled labour”.

Rep. Tom McClintock, whose Congressional District Four includes the 1,400-square-mile Stanislaus National Forest, told the Union Democrat: “Wildfire firefighting is hot, miserable work, but it is not skilled labor.”

Mr McClintock made the comments in a July 5 article on the difficulties of hiring and retaining firefighters, whose starting pay in California is as low as $28,078, or $13.49 per hour, less than the state minimum wage of $14.

His comments drew flak across social media for failing to appreciate the danger associated with firefighting.

Jason Patton, a career firefighter and paramedic who runs the popular YouTube account Fire Department Chronicles, said McClintock’s comments as “insulting”.

“Calling wildland firefighters ‘unskilled labour’ is like calling a doctor Google’s little assistant. It’s not only insulting but it takes the incredible multi-faceted, multi-level job that wildland firefighters have to do every single day that they show up, and bringing it all the way back down to just digging ditches in the hills,” Mr Patton said in a video that has been viewed more than 130,000 times.

“The fact is these men and women are leaving their families for weeks if not months at a time…. Putting their bodies at risk all to save the things that you love the most.

“Going out in nature, not smelling your entire forest burning down or watching that cabin that you spent your entire retirement on burn to the ground as you cry.”

California Republican calls firefighters ‘unskilled labor’

Writing on Facebook, a woman who described herself as a ‘Proud Wildland Firefighter Wife’ said the comments were “abhorrent and reprehensible”.

“I’m appalled that you know so little about these men and women who risk so much for your state (and elsewhere all over the nation),” she wrote.

“These brave and highly trained men and women deserve your highest respect. Though they wouldn’t use the word for themselves, they are heroes.”

Several wildfires are raging out of control in California including the Dixie and Fly Fires, which merged on Saturday to create the 15th largest fire in state history.

The Tamarack Fire is also burning out of control along the border with Nevada.

Some 22,000 firefighters have been deployed to tackle the more than 80 wildfires currently burning across the western United States.

Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency across the California.

On Friday, five firefighters in Montana were injured when a thunderstorm and swirling winds in central Montana blew a lightning-caused wildfire back on them, federal officials said.

Mr McClintock said enhanced unemployment benefits were to blame for the inability to retain firefighters.

In Stanislaus National Forest, fire staffing was 25% short this summer, a Forest Service spokeswoman told the Union Democrat.

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