The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, August 22, 2016 10:05 pm

California faces firefighters shortage

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s state fire department is stretched thin just as the bone-dry state enters the peak of its wildfire season, with vacancy rates exceeding 15 percent for some firefighters and supervisors. The vacancy rate is more than 10 percent for some fire engine drivers, according to statistics provided to The Associated Press.

A five-year drought and changing weather patterns have transformed what once was a largely summertime job into an intense year-round firefight, said Janet Upton, spokeswoman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"It’s not the old days where we were a seasonal department with a season that lasted a few months," she said.

The shortage means the state is forced during weather conditions fanning large blazes to keep firefighters on duty for long hours as they do backbreaking, dangerous work. Nearly 25 percent of departing employees over the last two years have told officials they quit for better-paying jobs with other firefighting agencies, according to the statistics provided by CalFire.


Ex-Milwaukee officers part of shooting probe


Wisconsin’s attorney general acknowledged Monday that former Milwaukee police officers, now working for the state Department of Justice, are investigating the fatal shooting of a black man by a Milwaukee officer that triggered two nights of violence.

Attorney General Brad Schimel said he doesn’t see a conflict in using former Milwaukee officers in the investigation into the Aug. 13 shooting of Sylville K. Smith.

Smith, 23, was killed after what Milwaukee police said was a brief foot chase when he ran from a traffic stop. A few hours after Smith’s death, a protest on the city’s largely black north side erupted into violence that reignited the next night in the Sherman Park neighborhood.


Teacher tenure law in California stands


In a victory for teacher unions, a divided California Supreme Court decided Monday to let the state’s teacher tenure law stand.

The high court decided 4-3 not to review a lower court ruling that upheld tenure and other job protections for teachers. That ruling came in a lawsuit by a group of students who claimed that incompetent teachers were almost impossible to fire because of tenure laws and that schools in poor neighborhoods were dumping grounds for bad teachers.

The case was closely watched around the country and highlighted tensions between teacher unions, school leaders, lawmakers and well-funded education reform groups over whether policies like tenure and firing teachers with the least seniority keep ineffective instructors in the classroom.


Russia not using Iran air base ‘for now’


Russia has stopped using an Iranian air base for launching airstrikes on Syria for the time being, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday, just hours after the Iranian defense minister criticized Moscow for having "kind of show-off and ungentlemanly" attitude by publicizing their actions.

Moscow, which had used the Shahid Nojeh Air Base to refuel its bombers striking Syria at least three times last week, confirmed that all Russian warplanes that were based in Iran have returned to Russia.

A statement from the Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that as long as Iran agreed, Russia could use the Iranian air base again, "depending on the situation" in Syria.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters in Tehran that the Russian airstrikes on militants in Syria were "temporary, based on a Russian request."

"It is finished, for now," Ghasemi said, without elaborating.


US, South Korea begin annual military drills


South Korea and the United States began annual military drills Monday despite North Korea’s threat of nuclear strikes in response to the exercises that it calls an invasion rehearsal.

Such fiery rhetoric by Pyongyang is not unusual. But the latest warning comes at a time of more tension following the defection of a senior North Korean diplomat and a U.S. plan to place a high-tech defense missile system in South Korea.

The North’s military said in a statement Monday that it will turn Seoul and Washington into "a heap of ashes through a Korean-style pre-emptive nuclear strike" if they show any signs of aggression toward the North’s territory.


Children flee violence in Central America


Thousands of children trying to escape gang violence and poverty in Central America have made their way to the United States this year – and there is no sign that the flow is letting up, the U.N. children’s agency said in a report released late Monday.

In the first six months of 2016, UNICEF said almost 26,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S. border along with 29,700 people traveling as a family, mostly mothers and young children.

Most are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, three countries with some of the world’s highest murder and poverty rates, UNICEF said.


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