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CRENSHAW : Forest Service Trainees Fired Up

June 20, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

Clifton Dunlap says the firefighting training he has been getting the past two weeks is teaching him to put out more than one kind of flame.

"This program is really bringing together brothers from different neighborhoods, different gangs," said Dunlap, 29, a resident of Jordan Downs housing project in Watts and chief of the trainee crew. "What we're doing right now is something we can give back to younger guys."

For the past two weeks, Dunlap and 35 others have been schooled in the art of firefighting by the Forest Service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Through a joint program of the Crenshaw-based Los Angeles Unemployed Council, the Los Angeles Housing Authority and the Forest Service, participants have received instruction in the nature of brush fires, trench digging, establishing firebreaks and other aspects of firefighting.

During the first week, participants met at Maranatha Community Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to view training films, then headed to Tujunga Hills in the Angeles National Forest for 12-hour drills in using hand tools and hoses.

For many trainees, teamwork and working toward a common goal were the most satisfying aspects.

"It's the unification amongst the brothers that's most valuable," said Morrise White, a former gang member who is completing studies in philosophy at Compton College. "The truce feeling that's out on the streets was made stronger. And that fact there aren't too many black firefighters anyway makes it even better."

Half of the participants were provided by the council, a labor advocacy organization, and the other half were recommended by housing authority officials who work with residents of Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts and Mar Vista housing projects. Participants were paid $7.82 an hour during training, said council executive director and crew manager Ron Lamont. After receiving certificates of completion, trainees will be on an emergency on-call status with the Forest Service.

Fire Capt. Mark Gloss said he is not sure how much work trainees can expect this fire season, especially in light of last winter's heavy rains. He said the trainees have performed exceptionally well.

"As the days went on, they developed a tremendous teamwork atmosphere," he said. "Hopefully, they'll get a chance to utilize that as often as possible, at least four or five times a month."

Many trainees said the experience made them hope for career positions as firefighters. "It's strenuous work, climbing hills and cutting lines, but I love it," said Zelia Murphy, a Crenshaw resident.

And the crew's sole female participant, 23-year-old Vateneya Allen, said she was gratified to be treated "like one of the fellas."

"It's hard work, but fun, and I'm learning something," said Allen, dressed in the same green khakis, white T-shirt and heavy boots as her fellow trainees. "I used to think that fire was just fire. But there's a lot to it."

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