Salton City Fire Department

Amidst the 1200 square miles of hostile desert and sparsely populated urban sprawl, only two fire stations are placed within California’s Salton Seas West Shores. According to the website of the Salton Community Services District, or SCSD, eight firefighters are on staff for the district; however, SCSD Captain Scott Murray, 26, says, “There are only six of us in total right now…. And four are in this room.”

Captain Murray says that each volunteer firefighter works five days a week, more than professional firefighters work. “We only get a stipend of $50 for ever 24 hours we work. It’s not much but it pays for gas and food,” says volunteer firefighter Angel Garcia, 19, “we basically live here.”

Salton City is located approximately 60 miles north of the Mexican border. Over the summer the temperature rises into the low 100s for weeks at a time and often warms to 120 degrees Fahrenheit––although the locals, including Captain Murray, claim their thermometer will read up to 130 degrees for at least one day each summer. “The heat sucks man, but when we have to wear the fire suits, it gets really brutal. Like, it will already be hot but with all the fire gear, it’s like 140 on the worst days,” says Garcia.

Angel Garcia and fellow volunteer firefighter, Anthony Armenta, 21, were born in Brawley, California about 40 miles south of Salton City. In order to get from Brawley to Salton City, the young men must pass through a border patrol checkpoint. Garcia says, “Every time I go through there, they search my car. I guess they think I’m some kind of drug dealer or something.”

Captain Murray chimes in, “My boys always get stopped and hassled. Even when they’re wearing their firefighter shirts and tell them where they’re going… The patrol officers just don’t believe them. I’ve had guys been late to a fire because of it. I don’t get stopped though because I look white.” The volunteers are all Americans with Mexican parents or grandparents. According to the 2010 census, Salton City has a 2:1 ratio of Hispanics living in the city.

When not out on a call, the volunteer firefighters are in the firehouse, lifting weights in the garage or playing games and watching movies inside the air conditioning. Although these young men don’t get paid much for their efforts, they keep each other excited and motivated. “It’s like a family, man, we all help each other out. These guys keep me going.”­