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Morning Brief: Investigating Firefighter Training, The LA Mayor’s Race And The History Of Mexican American Baseball

Incarcerated firefighters, wearing orange gear, hiking with tools.
Incarcerated firefighters on a hike.
(Courtesy of Cal Fire)
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Good morning, L.A. It’s Sept. 22.

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Fighting wildfires is hard work. I have a friend on a hotshot crew who regularly shares snippets from his battles on Instagram. I’m constantly impressed and slightly terrified that he does something so physically grueling in such hazardous conditions, with fire, smoke, wind and sun all bearing down on him and his team.

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While the dangers of fighting a wildfire are apparent, the training firefighters go through is also hazardous. And with rising temperatures, many firefighters on routine training exercises are falling ill — and in some cases dying — from the heat.

A new investigation by LAist/KPCC and Columbia Journalism Investigations found that almost four dozen Cal Fire firefighters have suffered from heat illness during training over the last year and a half. Looking back further into public records showed that five have died during training since 2003.

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Both public health experts and federal workplace regulators say heat-related illnesses and deaths are 100% preventable. But as LAist’s Jacob Margolis and Columbia’s Brian Edwards report, many of the cases they examined “indicate the same underlying problems — a punitive culture that can endanger firefighters’ health, a lackluster physical screening process and an ineffective plan for building up firefighters’ tolerance for heat.”

You can read their full story here.

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Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A., and stay safe out there.

What Else You Need To Know Today

  • After a couple years of speculation over his political goals, City Councilmember Kevin de León has announced a bid to become mayor of Los Angeles. The longtime elected official promised to “chart a new course” for the city, citing recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, housing instability and homelessness as his top priorities.
  • An Anaheim family that was trapped in Afghanistan after the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban last month is finally on its way home.
  • Last week, Amtrak and Metrolink announced that cliffside train service between southern Orange County and Oceanside has been paused due to unstable cliffs.
  • Los Angeles County's Department of Animal Care and Control has launched a new online program designed to help keep pets out of shelters. Officials hope the new “Home to Home” program will relieve some of the stress put on pets and the animal care centers.
  • A lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 500 L.A. city firefighters says mandates requiring all city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 violate California constitutional codes that prevent human experimentation.
  • Some encouraging developments on the coronavirus front from Orange County on Tuesday: the positivity rate among people being tested is now down to 3.7%. At the end of August the rate was almost double that, at 6.8%.

Before You Go... A Mexican American Pastime, And So Much More

10 men all wearing baseball uniforms stand or kneel. One woman in a dress stands among them.
Johnnie Peña (front row, left) with his eight brothers and their parents, Victoria and Guillermo "Willie" Peña.
(Courtesy of Diana Gonzales)

For more than 50 years, thousands of Mexican Americans across Southern California knew where they would be every Sunday. On fields stretching from White Sox Park in Compton to Evergreen Park in Boyle Heights, hundreds of amateur and semi-professional Latinx baseball and softball teams battled it out in front of devoted crowds. Mariachi bands performed, children frolicked and spectators parked their cars near the bases for a bird's eye view.

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"They used to call it the beer league because people would get together on Sunday and just drink beer there all day and play ball," says professor Richard Santillán of the Latino Baseball History Project at California State University San Bernardino.

These Sunday games were more than casual fun. They were massive public assemblies where Mexican Americans could socialize, strategize and make personal and professional connections.

LAist contributor Hadley Meares explored that rich local history. Read all about it here.

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