Firefighter dies on hike

January 5, 2012

A California Men’s Colony inmate firefighter on a routine training hike collapsed and died Tuesday at Camp San Luis National Guard Base, according to a Cal Fire press release.

The man, whose name has not been released pending notification of relatives, passed out at about 3:45 p.m. and was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He had been assigned to the Cuesta Fire Camp at the California Men’s Colony.

Cal Fire and the Men’s Colony officials are conducting an investigation.

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Since World War II, the state has relied on nonviolent offenders serving time for such crimes as burglary, drug possession and welfare fraud to help clear brush, cut fire lines and stop infernos from spreading.

Fire officials say the prisoners, selected from a pool of those who exhibit ideal behavior in custody, can be as much as half the manpower assigned to a large fire.

“When things get busy, it’s the first thing we run out of,” said Andy McMurry, deputy director of fire protection for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Now, the realignment of inmate custody, developed to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overcrowding must be reduced in state lockups, is expected to keep thousands of those low-level offenders in county jails, where many could be released early because space is scarce.

Fire officials say they can sustain the number of inmate crews for now, but their forces will begin to shrink in 2013. The reduction, if fully implemented, would cut the inmate firefighting ranks by nearly 40%, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which operates the program jointly with Cal Fire.

I very much appreciate the headline used here. Good for Cal Coast News. I’ve run into crews of these young men several times while on solo remote hikes and have been treated with great respect. My heart goes out to his family.

I don’t know very much about the fire camp program but I’m pretty sure that it’s a privilege that some inmates can apply for on good behavior and/or when they’re servicing a relatively short term. I’ve heard that they actually serve as volunteers later when there is a need like a serious forest fire. Does anyone know about this program? It sounds very positive.

My condolences to his family and those who loved him, rest in peace.

Anyone training to be a fireman is a hero in my book. Condolences to this young man’s friends and family. Very sad.