Friday, May 11, 2007

Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The Fire

According to an LA County Fire Dept spokesman quoted in the LA Times, "the backbone of the fight" against the wildfires threatening Catalina Island are small firecrews from the Fire Camp program. "They're the frontline, infantry," the spokesman went on to say.

But if one of the crew members ever tries to bum a cigarette off you, be sure to say no. Not because it's a fire risk. But because the firecrews are actually made up of non-violent inmates on loan from the California Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation. And as the Fire Camp website says:

You cannot give anything, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, to an incarcerated crewmember.

There's also this nugget:

The CDC (sic) supplies the workforce for each camp and the Fire Department supplies the fire crew supervisor. Both agencies benefit from this arrangement; the Department and County of Los Angeles gain an eager and willing workforce to complete a myriad of necessary projects and CDC (sic) is able to provide a structured learning environment with an emphasis on teamwork and a strong work ethic for personnel under their care.

Oddly enough, the LA Times didn't see fit to inquire as to whether and how much the inmates are paid, as well as whether the CDCR gets a cut. I did, however, and I'll keep you posted as I hear back from the CDCR.

Update: I just heard back from the CDCR. The inmates are paid $1.00/hr. while on emergency assignment, and $0.20/hr. for non-emergency work between fires. Which begs the question, Are these positions that the Fire Dept has trouble filling? Or is this just an obscene cost-cutting policy? I'll follow up on that next week.

Another Update: Something I forgot to mention: One of the Fire Camps is made up of juvenile inmates, or "wards", who are paid at the same rate. And something that occured to me after I published the post: If you're a non-violent offender in California, and you've got the dough, you can buy yourself a spot in a "soft" county jail. Otherwise, you've got to put your life on the line fighting fires for eight bucks a day if you want to avoid doing time with hardened criminals. Can we get prison reform onto the list of Democratic priorities for 2008?

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Odds & Ends   

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