Axe? Check. Fire extinguisher? Check. Spanish flashcards? Er...

Starting this week, firefighters in Knoxville, Tennessee will be adding one more tool to their fireman checklist: laminated Spanish flashcards. Knoxville Fire Department Senior Firefighter Al Ludwig, who put together the program, told that he hopes the cards will improve communication in Spanish-dominant neighborhoods during emergency situations. The effort is part of an on-going national debate about how emergency responders should best serve immigrant and non-English speaking communities.

Senior Firefighter Kevin Spooner, who has served his community in his role for 23 years, told that the flashcard program is desperately needed in his community.

"The Hispanic population is growing and we really need this," Spooner said.

In some areas of the Knoxville, ten to 20 percent of emergency calls require Spanish-English translation, according to The flash cards include phrases such as, "Show me the injury?", "Are you pregnant?", and "Are you taking any medications?", according to the report.

But, Knoxville isn't the first city to grapple with the question of how best to serve Spanish-speaking communities.

In Boston, the fire department's efforts to hire 15 Spanish-speaking firefighters was met with resistance from veterans groups, who claim the initiative is a disguised form of ethnic affirmative action, according to The Boston Globe.

“We need people who can speak Spanish in Hispanic neighborhoods,’ Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr said in response to the veterans' complaints. “We’re not refusing to hire veterans. The majority of runs — over 45 percent of our responses — are emergency medical calls. You need to be able to talk to the people about what’s wrong when you show up on scene.’’

Still, in some other cities, emergency response translation is outsourced to border patrol agents -- a practice which immigration rights advocates say is worrisome and illegal.

In May, a Seattle-based immigrant advocacy nonprofit filed a formal civil rights complaint against the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, challenging the practice of local police departments calling in border patrol agents to act as interpreters.

“Law enforcement agencies who attempt to use Border Patrol for alleged ‘interpretation assistance’ during routine matters are failing to provide meaningful access to their services to people with limited English skills, as they are required to do under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13166,” Jorge L. Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the organization that filed the complaint, said in a press statement.

The border patrol insists that when called in for translators, they stick to translating. Spokesperson Richard Sinks told Seattle-area KUOW/ 94.9 FM news radio, "we will not arrest or even seek immigration status of a victim or a witness. We're strictly there for translation in that type of request."

There seem to be some exceptions, however.

In April of this year, border patrol agents were called to act as interpreters when six immigrants placed a 911 call in Huron County, Michigan. The Huffington Post uncovered that border patrol agents never translated the reasons for the initial 911 call, but rather, only identified the immigrants as undocumented, and took them into custody. The six men were later deported back to Mexico, and the reason for the 911 call was never discovered.

Despite the growing political debate surrounding the matter, Tennessee firefighters say an effective way of communicating with Spanish-speakers is becoming a must in their profession. Ludwig, who founded the program, says he isn't concerned with the immigration politics, rather, he simply wants provide the best services possible to communities which are Spanish-dominant.

"As firefighters, we're not there to discuss the politics of it, we're there to help human beings," Ludwig told

Here are some non-emergency responders trying their best to speak to the Latino community...
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  • Herman Cain

    On his recent campaign stop in Miami, Herman Cain took some time to try some Latino cuisine, and offend a few Latinos along the way. After biting into a croqueta at Miami's famed Versailles Cafe, Cain asks, "How do you say delicious in Cuban?" Cuban, as many know, is not a language. In Spanish, however, delicious is <em>delicioso.</em>

  • Barack Obama

    "I was born in an island and I understand that food, gas and everything else, is more expensive. Puerto Rico has the right for a better future. My plan offers new incentives to restore the 40,000 job which have been lost and invests in the education of Puerto Rican kids. This coming July, it would be an honor to count with your vote." Obama is really pushing for the Puerto Rican vote. He visited the island in June of 2011. The first president to visit Puerto since John F. Kennedy in 1961,<a href="" target="_hplink"> according to NYTimes. </a> Keep your eyes and ears open for the next spanish speech by Obama.

  • Jackie Kennedy

    "Dear Friends, this is the wife of John F. Kennedy, candidate in the U.S. presidential election... When world peace is threatened by communism, it's necessary to have a leader in The White House who is able to guide our destinies with a firm hand... Long Live Kennedy!" 1. No need for introduction. As if the entire world didn't know who Jackie Kennedy is. 2. It's nice to see she's friendly with latinos and 3. Given the Trade Embargo with Cuba has been firm since 1962, we're guessing that Miss Kennedy's spanish speech wasn't exactly detrimental to her husband's campaign.

  • El Bloombito

    Oh yes, that day Bloomberg so kindly "summarized for the spanish speaking audience" the city's plan to clean up after Irene and inspired one of the best twitter accounts of all times: @ElBloombito. The twitter account mocking Bloomberg's spanish has over 25,000 followers. The hilarious spanish-speaking alter ego was created by Rachel-Figuero Levin. "The Spanish is just so blatantly hilarious,"<a href="" target="_hplink"> she said to NBC New York.</a> "It's the diction. It's the pronunciation. It's the accent." To @ElBloombito account, Bloomberg responded from his personal Twitter account "It's hard to learn a new language at age 69", according to NBC New York. Follow <a href="!/ElBloombito" target="_hplink">@ElBloombito </a>here.

  • Hillary Clinton

    "Si Se PuedA!" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, got her protest chant a little mixed up. "Si Se Puede!" ("Yes It Can Be Done") was the motivating slogan first popularized by Cesar Chavez back in the 1960's when referring to social change for immigrant workers.

  • Jeb Bush

    "This diverse community with energy with, uh, uh, great potential and possibility of advancing our country, is going to be the one that decides the elections. And if we fall behind because we dont do the effort and or we're being irrespecutful, or whatever, then, that's lack of common sense." So, essentially, you need the latino vote Jeb?

  • Craig Romney

    In Mitt Romney's ninth spanish-language television ad, his son Craig spoke to Latino audiences about his father's beliefs and origins. "I would like to tell you how my father, Mitt Romney, thinks," <a href="" target="_hplink">Craig Romney says in the ad, translated to English by the campaign.</a> "He values very much that we are a nation of immigrants. My grandfather George was born in Mexico. For our family the greatness of the United States is how we respect and help each other, regardless of where we come from."

  • Barack Obama

    Just a week after announcing his decision to halt deportation for some undocumented young people, President Obama <a href="" target="_hplink">spoke at the NALEO conference</a> and schmoozed away with the Latino audience. "Que placer estar aqui con tanto amigos!" ("what a pleasure being here with all these friends") said Obama at the beginning of his speech.