Felon firefighter forces dwindling
August 1, 2012
Even as California’s fire season reaches its peak, state officials are learning that a new prison policy will drastically affect the numbers of firefighters available in emergencies. (SF Chronicle)
State prison trustees who have been trained to provide critical, physical services during wildfires are being transferred to local control as a result of the state Department of Corrections’ newly-initiated policy. That calls for lower-risk prisoners to be moved into county jails or placed under supervision of local probation officials.
According to state sources, more than 4,000 such prisoners have been trained to assist during emergency situations. Now, however, at least 1,500 of these people now will be incarcerated locally and will not be available to help with what may be a huge fire season.
Inmates are characterized by the orange protective clothing they wear alongside Cal Fire workers, who wear yellow.
“They’re able to provide a large workforce,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Oftentimes we have just as many, if not more, inmate firefighters on the fire line than regular fire crews.”
State prisoners are nonviolent offenders who volunteer their services. They are paid $1 a day, or $1 an hour if fighting fires, said officials.