By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Between those two things, I was on the verge of losing my mind. My mother died first, and that was a lot to go through, but it wasn’t unexpected. My brother had just finished a four-year stretch at Soledad, so I was expecting to see him when I got out the next year. I had just spoken to him — he asked me to call him the next Friday — and I had said, ‘I ain’t gonna call you Friday. I’m gonna let you get yo’self together first.’ ”
Friday came, and Red was at chow when the guards came to inform him that Kenny-Mac was dead. Red stood up to face them: “Naw. Naw!Don’t be tellin’ me my brother dead. I just talked to him — I was supposed to call him today. Don’t be sayin’ he dead.” When Red called home, Minnie-Mac told him that Kenny had lain in the county morgue for five days as a John Doe, unknown and unclaimed.
The remainder of the year passed slowly. Red descended into a depression so engulfing he spent most of the time in his cell, unavailable even to the homies. Nothing could entice him out of himself.
Red’s cousinJade came to pick him up upon his release from Corcoran and, as a kind of gift, brought along a girl: Monique. Monique was pretty enough, and she was clearly intrigued at the prospect of being with a genuine outlaw. Red went home with her to Rialto.
“I figured, comin’ out of prison, that was a way to keep out the hood.” But two weeks later, he was back at Minnie-Mac’s in South-Central, ready to re-up with the Eight-Tray Gangstas. One thing stopped him:
“I had made a promise to myself that I wasn’t never goin’ back to prison.”
Some of the homeboys came to the house that first week. “We was kickin’ it, smokin’ a little weed, and I told ’em I had to find me a job. And they started in talkin’ how they was all about fightin’ fires now as part of a crew called the Panthers. They was goin’ on about how the Panthers was with the Highlanders, which was part of the U.S. Forest Service, and I got interested. But the homies said, naw, I was too involved with the neighborhood to be in the program.” He displays that thin smile again. “That made me more interested. See, I wanted a way to give back to the neighborhood. Wanted a way to help inner-city kids in trouble.” He made a promise to the guys sitting in his grandmother’s living room. “I told ’em if they gave me an opportunity, I would run away with it.”
One of the homeboys at the house that day was a Panthers program manager. Red remembers that this guy had remained silent during much of the talk, just sat and listened. “This dude knew if I could turn that negative into a positive, then I could run a whole lotta things.” The guy vouched for Red, and a week later, McIntyre was accepted as a Highlanders trainee. Highlanders was the name of a temporary fire crew, part of an employment program that had been developed by the U.S. Forest Service in the wake of the ’92 riots in South-Central L.A. The program was originally designed to provide jobs for those people living in areas most affected by the rioters. Ninety-five percent were African-American, most of them young guys out of South-Central.
He is focused only on this fire now, making A-one decisions. Because he’s not just thinking about himself and the other guys on the crew; this fire is chewing its way toward residential areas. There will be some homeowners rushing to get out and you have to wonder if the roads can accommodate the traffic. There will be people who don’t want to leave and you’ve got to explain the seriousness of the situation without scaring the hell out of them. You have to allay their fears at the same time you’re leaning on them to get the hell out. Sometimes it’s not just the fire you got to fight.
Assistant Chief Jim Hall has been with the Forest Service since 1979. Hall is a powerfully built man, a onetime firefighter turned training officer. He nods approvingly when I mention Red McIntyre. “Yeah, McIntyre came to us through a program called Opportunity L.A. that came into being after the ’92 civil unrest. The Angeles National Forest wanted to keep their CWN [Call When Needed] fire crews in place, and this program supplemented us with a temporary firefighting force of hand crews when we had to dispatch our regular crews to other parts of the country. We drew down our regular personnel, but we still needed to protect our home front. So we put these crews together and we mixed Crips and Bloods — that was probably our biggest challenge.”
Challenge is right. Hall and other training officers had to persuade young men and women loyal only to their neighborhoods to exchange red or blue for the green and yellow of the U.S. Forest Service. “We made it clear that if you wanted to be in the program — if you wanted to change your life — you had to change your ways.”