In the aftermath of the California Firestorm of 2007, everybody is singing the praises of the brave firefighters who fought so hard to get the wildfires under control. From the nightly news anchors to the President, Governor and Mayor to the children at the local schools, we are hearing heartfelt thanks being given to the men and women on the front lines of the catastrophe. Nowhere in all of this singing of praises is there a mention of the fact that over a third of the firefighting force in San Diego County, roughly 3000 men and women out of the 9000, were inmates of the California Department of Corrections.
Why is this a secret? Why can't we acknowledge that people who have been labeled criminals and sent away to "get them off our streets" are now out there saving our homes from destruction. Just like the other firefighters, they work twelve hour shifts, they do back breaking labor in extreme conditions, they risk their lives, they burn, and when they are done they go back to their camps and they wait to be called again.
These are nonviolent offenders who have earned the privilege of being assigned to fire camps and are given reduced time for the time they spend in the camps. But most of all they are people who deserve to be recognized and acknowledged.
I would like to hear someone say thank you to all the CDC Inmates who risked their lives to save our homes. Their efforts were just as noble as those of the civilian firefighters.
All of us in Southern California should offer thanks to the prisoners who fought the fires, but most of us will never even know they were there.
Yes, it is ironic that we are not more aware of the dual role these people have in our society. I think it's a positive thing that prisoners are able to contribute in this way. Maybe no one thought to mention it. I am grateful for you making us aware of it here. It is no small deal to be out there fighting fires.
How CAN we thank these inmate firefighters for their work? Is there a way to address them directly? To support them? Thank you so much for writing about this. I just read it to my family and it moved us all.
Thank you for this post. After my last time in prison, 2001, I joined CDF (now CalFire). Only people that I worked closely with knew that I was once a prisoner. It was very interesting meeting some CDC staff that I knew from the years I spent incarcerated, on the fire line, and actualy ran into prisoners that I had done time with. Once on a fire a group from a northern fire camp came to breakfast and as they walked by I hear, "Lucky! What are ya doin with a badge!". Needless to say I knew some of these guys. My battalion chief really got a kick out of that. I want to say that in the academy the battalion chiefs would make it well known that the inmates were to be respected. There were a few times that I was on an incident where some firefighters made rude comments only to find that the other person who was in yellow (not orange) standing next to them and working with them was once one of "those guys". A few red faces and apologies quickly ended the conversation. I don't feel that outside of the dept. "hand crews" are given much recognition and respect. Perhaps someone needs to remind the public of the countless acres of resources and property that are directly impacted by these hard working men and women. I no longer work with the fire dept. My knees just can't take it any longer. But if any inmate out there thinks that they can't join CalFire after their release, think again. You can do whatever it is you put right effort into. I am currently at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery serving" vassa" or winter retreat and will be going forth (more than likely) as an anagarika this summer under Ven. Ajahn Passano and Ven. Ajahn Amaro, both senior disciples of Ven. Ajahn Cha, the late Thai master. Never let the past come back to you. Metta to all of you.