The Rutherford Report—County Expanding Inmate Fire Crews

Click here if you are having trouble viewing The Rutherford Report.

The Rutherford Report
  View Past Issues Visit Jan's Website View Print Editions  
Top Photo
“Don't cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

—Dr. Seuss
County Expanding Inmate Fire Crews

About a year and a half ago, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department launched an ambitious pilot program to train inmates to work as firefighters.

Since then, the County has opened an 8-acre inmate fire camp, and there are three inmate fire hand crews with a total of 45 members. A fourth crew is in training and another is expected to begin training shortly.

“The program has been a tremendous success, and the fire crews are a great resource for the County,” Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said.

Sheriff John McMahon said the program has provided inmates with new skills they can use to find jobs after their release, and it’s also given them a sense of self-worth.

“These guys are learning how good it feels to serve their community by helping people in need,” McMahon said.

In addition to aiding firefighters during multiple wildfires, the crews have laid sandbags to keep floodwater from people’s homes, cleaned up after mudslides in Mt. Baldy, and helped revive a curbside yard waste chipping program that was threatened by budget cuts. Crews have also been tasked with removing limbs, brush and other fire fuels in various locations throughout the County.

The program was, in part, a response to California’s prison realignment law that shifted responsibility for detaining low-level convicts from state prisons to county jails in October 2011. Jail populations swelled with the arrival of former state prisoners, including some who’d worked on fire crews run by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Realignment also led to inmates serving longer sentences in county jails. That meant inmates could complete firefighter training and still have ample time left on their sentences to serve on a fire crew.

To be considered for a fire crew, inmates must be low-level offenders and have at least 15 to 18 months left on their sentence. They also cannot have any documented gang affiliation, prior discipline, and must not be a flight risk.

Crewmembers are not electronically monitored due to the remote areas they work in, as well as the gear they must wear; however inmates remain under constant supervision. Click here to learn more.
Was The Rutherford Report forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe.