Thousands of firefighters and paramedics throughout San Diego County are joining the fight against human trafficking.
As part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, District Attorney Summer Stephan announced a new program Wednesday, designed to teach first responders how to recognize red flags.
“We have over 3,000 firefighters in San Diego County, and every day they’re out there saving lives," Stephan said. "And they’re in situations – they’re in hotels, they’re in businesses, they’re in offices -- and they are seeing victims of human trafficking, but the training was needed to actually spot them, detect them and know what to do.”
The training includes a video featuring firefighters, law enforcement, and even a survivor of human trafficking, talking about the warning signs to look out for -- signs Stephan said are often hiding in plain sight.
“The biggest problem about human trafficking, about fighting it and fighting it smartly, is that it is very difficult to identify. It basically hides in plain sight,” Stephan said.
San Miguel Fire Protection District Captain Roddey Blunt has been a paramedic for more than 30 years and in the fire service for almost as long.
He said the training has opened his eyes to just how big the problem is.
"I was able to take what I've learned, through making the video and what we were told, and actually back-track and look at some of the calls I've been on that were obvious, obvious to me that there was human trafficking going on and I didn't realize it," Blunt said.
According to the District Attorney's Office, sex trafficking is an $810 million industry in San Diego County.
The DA's Office said the Human Trafficking Task Force investigated 194 leads in 2019, and helped 121 victims of commercial sex trafficking.
Stephan said adding firefighters and paramedics to the front line of this fight will allow them to help even more victims and prosecute their captors.
“We want traffickers to beware that we’ve just brought 3,000 more eyes on them,” Stephan said.