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|Last Updated: Monday, November 05, 2012|
CAL FIRE CDCR Inmate Firefighters
There are a total of 39 CAL FIRE conservation camps throughout the State of California with 169 crews performing project work and fighting fires. Each crew includes anywhere from 13 to 17 people and three of those crews are strictly women. According to Captain Chad Moxley with the Norco Conservation Camp, CAL FIRE has been using inmate crews for firefighting since the early 1980's. Prior to that, CAL FIRE used inmate crews in conservation work as early as the 1950's.
Inmates are selected by the Department of Corrections from their institutions. The minimum security inmates have to demonstrate a level of physical fitness to be accepted into the program. They are then turned over to CAL FIRE for 64 hours of basic wildland firefighter training. "There's a lot of physical demands in this job and we wanna make sure that they're ready for it. We can teach anybody to swing a shovel, swing a Pulaski, but we need to make sure that they can walk that 3 miles uphill to get to the fire," states Moxley.
Despite the fact that the work is difficult, it is definitely an advantage to be assigned to one of these camps because there is a great amount of freedom for the inmates at most of the camps where they live. Captain Moxley claims that there are fences at some conservation camps, but that others do not contain fences. Security personnel from the Department of Corrections, staffed by CAL FIRE captains, are on-site at the camps to monitor the inmates.
Once assigned to a camp, inmates will train continuously until they respond to fires. Riverside County crews were recently put through another part of their training, an annual fire preparedness exercise. Captain Moxley reported that the exercise brings three camps together in a setting where they can compete against one another in different evolutions for the upcoming fire season. "There's a lot of pride that comes out of this program," declares Moxley. The inmate crews also respond to other emergencies including floods, earthquakes and search and rescue missions.
Moxley explains that several of the conservation camps have what they call 'in-camp products.' At the Norco Conservation Camp, their main product is their engraving and sign shop. The inmates create signs that go on CAL FIRE's fire apparatus. They also do work for local youth sports groups making trophies for the kids. Moxley adds, "We utilize those folks with their special talents or skills that they have in our projects that we do for our sponsors or local government agencies."
"California, I think, is a model in utilizing the inmate crews. They've been using them for years. [It brings] Substantial savings to the public and it's a good benefit to the public." Moxley says taxpayers save well over a billion dollars each year. Inmates receive a small amount of compensation, around $1.45 a day, for project work. When they respond to fires, inmates are paid emergency wages of $1.00 per hour from the time that they leave the camp to the time they return. Other benefits are "day for day" where they earn an additional day off of their sentence for every day that they work.
Participating in CAL FIRE's wildland firefighting program is a good way for inmates to slowly assimulate back into the public. Captain Chad Moxley says, "They get a feeling of self-worth. They are out there working everyday and doing something. When my inmate firefighters step off that bus in your community to fight your fire, we're there as firefighters. We're not there representing the prison, we're there representing CAL FIRE and our team."
For more information on CAL FIRE's inmate firefighter program visit http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/fire_protection_coop_efforts_consrvcamp.php
Author:Barbara Brooks - Video, Renée Marquart - Text
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