The California Fire Service March-April 2023

12 • THE CALIFORNIA FIRE SERVICE MAGAZINE • MARCH/APRIL 2023 CSFA News irefighters are considered by the Department of Homeland Security as the first line of defense in the structure of our security matrix, and we serve as “sensors” in society. With the rare and unique benefit of being keepers of the public trust, firefighters and EMS professionals have a privileged position of seeing things others do not. Human trafficking, which may be forced labor trafficking, or sexual exploitation of both children and adults is happening all around us, in our cities, in suburbs and in rural areas. Firefighters and EMS professionals may be contacting and treating these victims without realizing the danger they are in or the torture they face. Human trafficking has long been exclusively in the hands of law enforcement, but it is time fire agencies empower their personnel to recognize and report suspicious activity. Human trafficking has emerged as one of the more significant political, legal, and social issues in the present era. While legislative and academic interest in trafficking has long been focused on social support programs and modernizing the criminal justice system to hold traffickers more accountable for their crimes (specifically commercial sexual exploitation), less attention has been paid to how to fully integrate fellow “first identifiers” into the national anti-trafficking response framework. First identifiers have been defined as those community partners that are likely to come into contact with signs or victims of modern-day slavery. The American fire and emergency medical services sit at a critical juncture of public health and homeland security and could serve as an innovative addition to local and state anti-trafficking task forces. As community-based first responders, they have unique access to environments which would be otherwise inaccessible to law enforcement or social services. Fire/EMS personnel enjoy a level of trust law enforcement generally does not. The public commonly sees fire and EMS as “helpers” and not “incarcerators.” This social equity allows them interpersonal contact and access to information disclosure police and federal agencies rarely enjoy. Keeping in line with their obligation and mission to protect vulnerable populations, first responders should be knowledgeable on predatory behavior they are likely to encounter including commercial sexual exploitation and forced/exploited labor trafficking. While quantifying the scope of trafficking has proven a difficult challenge, California has a significant problem. Funded by the Department of Health and Human F By Benjamin Thomas Greer and Heather Marques Illuminating the unseen: How fire and EMS professionals can assist in combatting human trafficking