As Fires Burned in California, AFSCME Members Helped and Were Helped

LOS ANGELES — As fires burned in Northern and Southern California and the death toll continued to rise; as smoke engulfed nearby cities, prompting health warnings to stay indoors; and as survivors relocated to makeshift camps and hoped for the best, the best often came from public service workers.

AFSCME member Frankie Martinez standing in front of a LA Co. Fire Department vehicle

Pictured: Frankie Martinez. Photo Credit: Erica Zeitlin (Council 36)

And that included AFSCME members like Francisco “Frankie” Martinez, a 39-year-old Los Angeles County Fire Department worker and member of AFSCME Local 119 (District Council 36).

Martinez is a mechanic whose job involves fixing and maintaining department trucks and other emergency vehicles. But after the Woolsey fire began to burn across Southern California, Martinez began fighting on the front lines. He barely slept for more than a week and was constantly on call in case a fire truck from any jurisdiction broke down or malfunctioned.

“We’ve been sleeping in our trucks for the most part because it’s been just chaos here,” he said, before the fires were contained. “On a good night we get four hours of sleep, I mean you close your eyes and you are just out. But last night we got maybe an hour of sleep before we heard the knock on the door and a voice telling us to go out again, so we jumped back out.”

Martinez is not a first responder. Mechanics like him often work behind the scenes to serve the public. Like many AFSCME members, he’s not in it for the glory or the recognition, yet he doesn’t hesitate to go beyond the call of duty.

Vice President of AFSCME Local 444, Eric Larson

Pictured: Eric Larson. Member-provided photo.

Other AFSCME members are helping survivors by offering food, blankets, clothing and other provisions.

Eric Larson, vice president of AFSCME Local 444 (Council 57), said he and other AFSCME members brought used and new items, as well as gift cards and cash, to the Red Cross in Chico, where many evacuees have set up shelter.

“We then asked folks in the parking lot if they wanted or needed any used clothing, blankets, etc., and they gladly accepted them,” he said. “A woman who lost everything – including her home – was brought to tears by our offer. The situation is devastating beyond imagination and the recovery will be long. Some will never recover at all.”

In addition to the donations from Local 444, Council 57 has also donated a truckload of blankets, socks, and personal supplies to United Domestic Workers (UDW).

UDW member Jennifer Blum

Pictured (right): Jennifer Blum. Member-provided photo.

The fire in Butte County has affected 3,000 members of UDW, AFSCME Local 3930. Twenty-three active members from Council 57’s Locals 829, 2428 and 2620 who also live in Butte County were affected by the fires. The thick smoke in the area where evacuees are now residing is making the weather unseasonably colder.

Among the UDW members affected was Jennifer Blum, whose home in Paradise was destroyed by the fire. Blum is a home care worker who takes care of her wife, Alicia, a cancer survivor. Alicia said their UDW sisters and brothers have been “amazing to us.”

“They have helped with so much — gas cards, toiletries, other gift cards to help get clothes, food items, and resources that helped us too,” she said. “To top it off, UDW has helped families that aren’t even part of the union that my wife and I have asked for them to help too.”