News / USA

Inmates Fight Fires, Gain Skills for Life After Prison

Inmates Fight Fires, Find New Skills for Life after Prisoni
X
June 19, 2013 11:00 PM
The western state of California is known for wildfires that can quickly burn out of control, and this year, the fire season has been extremely busy. Because of the fire risk, the state has some of the most experienced firefighters in the industry. It also enlists the help of prisoners to stop the fires. Elizabeth Lee reports from southern California.
Elizabeth Lee
The western state of California is known for wildfires that can quickly burn out of control, and this year the fire season has been extremely busy. Because of the fire risk, the state has some of the most experienced firefighters in the industry. It also enlists the help of prisoners to stop the fires.
 
Every morning, a select group of inmates in orange jumpsuits heads to work as firefighters. If there is no fire to fight, they painstakingly clean all the tools necessary to create the fire breaks that can stop a blaze from spreading.  
 
In California, physically fit inmates with no history of violent crimes have the option of training and working as firefighters while serving their time. Many get their sentences reduced in return. But that was not the program's only appeal for convicted robber Louie Orozco.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s fun at the same time. You’re expected to go out there and fight fires. Climb thousands of feet up hills, rocky terrain, sometimes sandy terrain, with tools you got anywhere between 30 and 50 pounds [13 and 22 kilograms] of gear on your back,” said Orozco.
 
Inmates in California have been used as fire fighters for more than 60 years. They also do community service projects and much more, said Captain Mike Mohler of the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“Our crews are used during floods, search-and-rescue operations. They put in about 2.5 million hours a year in just emergency response alone,” said Mohler.

California is not the only state that uses inmate firefighters, but its program is seen as a national model.

More than 4,000 California inmates serve as firefighters, often working side-by-side with professionals. Captain Kevin Krauss has been supervising inmate firefighters for seven years.  
 
“I treat them like firefighters. I demand they act like firefighters, and I tell them if they want to be heroes, they can be out here, if they want to be zeros (losers) they can go back and they can be incarcerated inside. It’s their choice,” he said.

Krauss said most of them choose to stay with the tough and often dangerous job, instead of spending their days behind prison walls.

“They get baptized by the devil out on the line. It’s hot, it’s dry, it’s physically demanding. [There is] Sleep deprivation,” he said.

They receive a small wage - minimal compared with the salary of a professional firefighter. Inmates were originally used as cheap labor, but over the years, the program has evolved. It now tries to rehabilitate inmates and help them develop new skills that go beyond fighting fires.

Orozco also works in a graphic design shop next to the garage that houses the fire trucks. He said this experience has given him a new sense of confidence.

“Mentally I see that I can do things I never thought possible. Climbing thousands and thousands of feet up a mountain with gear on your back,” he said.
 
Orozco turns 40 this year, and said he’s too old to keep fighting fires after he is released from prison in six months. He plans to use the graphic design skills he has learned to start a new life... knowing that after facing wildfires, he can deal with any challenge that comes with life after prison.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
June 21, 2013 11:09 PM
Yes, but neither the State nor the Feds will hire inmate fire fighters after they are released. That is hypocritical.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocidei
X
Elizabeth Lee
August 31, 2015 8:23 PM
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs