Life on an inmate fire crew
You don’t hear very much about what it is like to be on an inmate crew, unless you have had the unfortunate experience of committing a crime and serving on one. Here are some excerpts from an interesting article NewWest.net:
“It doesn’t hit you right away that you’re off prison ground until you’re sitting there at night and you see the stars above you,” he says. “Being out there you’re just like ‘Whoa!’ It’s different. It just brings you back down, you know. You say ‘Hey, look, I could be doing this on the streets instead of doing other criminal activities with alcohol and drugs.'”
For others, the first moments of freedom hit like an ice-cold wave, frightening but refreshing at the same time.
“It was scary,” Joseph James Paoni recalls about the first time he went out with the crew. “It was a shock just leaving the prison uncuffed after being transported from regional to regional shackled and cuffed, you know. It was kind of a different feeling.”
In Montana State Prison, being on the Con Crew is highly sought after because it offers the best pay ($12 a day working fires) and a sense of freedom, however fleeting.
For these reasons and others, it isn’t uncommon for crew members to be harassed by jealous inmates, so the crew sticks together, meeting every morning in an old Korean War tent working on tasks assigned by Gillibrand, including occasional visits to nearby sites around the valley that need cleaning or fix-up.
“I tell the guys every year, this is the fire crew. You have the elite job in the prison. This is the hardest job to get here, so don’t screw it up,” says Gillibrand, a 6-foot-5 brick-house of a man who takes great pride in his crew, like a father demanding nothing but the best from his sons.
Every spring, Gillibrand gets heaps of applications from hopeful inmates, but only about one in ten meet the security requirements. There are strict guidelines, like keeping a squeaky-clean record on the inside, having no prior convictions of arson or sex offenses, and being classified as minimum security.
Beyond the DOC’s requirements, Gillibrand has a few of his own. If an inmate is considered safe enough to be on the crew, and passes the physical tests, they must sign Gillibrand’s “Inmate Pledge,” composed of 24 declarations, including: “I will complete all assignments; pledging to do my best from time of departure until the time of return to the institution and will perform in a manner to bring credit to the program and myself…I understand that there is a ZERO tolerance for any substance abuse. Any usage of drugs, alcohol or tobacco will result in my removal from the program…I pledge that I will not have any one-on-one conversations or contact with any female on any fire or project.”
Curtis Jessen fatality update
More information is available about the death of Curtis Jessen who died in a fall while working on a fire near Saluda, North Carolina. He worked for the NC Division of Forest Resources and was the division’s assistant district forester in Asheville. From BlueRidgeNow:
He suffered critical injuries after falling at least 50 feet from the Big Bradley falls near Saluda at about 10:30 a.m., Thursday. The falls are about 65 feet tall. Medical personnel pronounced Jessen dead a short time later.
Jessen began working with Forest Resources in February 2002. He was a forest inventory analysis forester and a service forester before being promoted to assistant district forester.
Jeremy Gregg, a spokesperson with Saluda Fire and Rescue, confirmed at 1:35 p.m. Thursday that rescue workers had reached Jessen.
Gregg said members of the Saluda Fire Department noticed a brush fire at about 6 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Bradley Falls.
“The firefighters contacted the county ranger, and along with the Forest Service, began fighting the fire,” he said. As night started to fall, firefighters decided to cease their work and come back Thursday morning, according to David Brown, public information officer with the Forest Service.
“The victim was here mopping up the fire Wednesday morning when the accident occurred,” Brown said. “The victim was scouting the perimeter of the fire when he fell. The fire was near the top of Big Bradley Falls.”
Brown said the fire was on the south face and at the very top of the falls. It was contained Thursday afternoon. At least 40 rescue workers used all-terrain vehicles to reach Jessen.
Fire use fire ban lifted in California
According to the Sacramento Bee the U.S. Forest Service’s Regional Forester has lifted the ban he imposed last month on “fire use” fires in California.
“Rather than require local units to wait until the preparedness level has been reduced,” Moore wrote, “I have decided to again consider (controlled fires) on a case-by-case basis.”
Forest Service spokesman John Heil said California faced an “epic” fire situation after June 21, when lightning storms triggered thousands of fires. This spread crews thin and made smoke a health concern in many communities.
Moore originally said he would reconsider the ban if conditions changed. Heil said Moore’s latest directive reflects that change since many fires have been contained and smoky conditions have lifted.
“We have a lot fewer fires going on right now than we did back on July 9,” Heil said. “So, a lot of things have improved at this point.”
Gunbarrel fire update
Pushed by strong winds, this fire use fire between Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park made a large run on Thursday, adding another 5,600 acres, making the total size 48,670 acres.
About 1,000 of the additional acres were outside the Maximum Manageable Area (MMA) on the east side of the fire northeast of Jim Mountain. Stopping the “unwanted fire” in this area will be top priority for the firefighters on Friday. Additional resources were ordered and will be working on the fire today, including five more engines, a heavy-lift helicopter, and another hotshot crew. In addition to those, working on the fire are 168 people:
- 5 crews: 1 hotshot crew, 2 hand crews, and 2 fire use modules
- 3 helicopters: 2 medium and 1 light
- 7 engines and 3 water tenders
Here is a map produced after an infrared flight last evening. The “unwanted fire” outside the MMA is shown as separate unit of fire on the extreme east side; it later grew to 1,000 acres. From the incident management team:
The attached map shows a moderate-size spot fire east of Jim Mountain. The infrared flight from which the map was made occurred shortly after sunset last night, before the plane continued on to map fires in other states. During the night that spot grew to about a thousand acres. Entirely within the National Forest, the fire has burned about as far east as the intersection of Trout and Robbers Roost Creeks.
Fatal helicopter crash–rescuer’s account
John Pettijohn, a fir
efighter/paramedic with th
e Layton, Utah fire department, was working on a helitack crew on the fire in northern California when the helicopter crashed, killing nine.
Pettijohn had just arrived at his helibase at 7:45 p.m. when the call about the crash came in.
About a dozen firefighters were at the scene when the helicopter took off from the remote helispot around 6,000 feet elevation. The craft traveled about 150 yards and crashed, then burst into flames. Three occupants escaped, and one ran back and pulled out another survivor.
Within five minutes, Pettijohn and another dozen firefighters arrived on the mountain via helicopter. Pettijohn realized he didn’t have the help or medical equipment he would have had on his engine in Layton. The helicopter’s emergency medical kit was equipped to handle emergencies involving one or two victims, not four, he said.
“This was a different element I was working in,” Pettijohn said.
Emergency medical technicians among the firefighters on the scene may not have had the medical experience of Pettijohn’s Layton co-workers, but “they performed well,” he said. The wildfire, which had consumed 100,000 acres, was right there, but Pettijohn’s main worry was the victims.
“Mainly, they had facial and hand burns and traumatic injuries,” he said. The traumatic injuries included fractures, but Pettijohn couldn’t tell how severe they were.
The facial burns posed another problem because the victims were breathing the heat from the burns into their airway and lungs. The main thing, Pettijohn said, was to get the men off the mountain before dark because “we can’t fly when it’s dark.”
Luckily, the smoke from the fire was not hampering visibility, he said, and helicopters were able to evacuate the injured.
The above is from Standard.net
NASA’s smoke, CO, and fire images
A NASA site has some images of smoke and also profiles of carbon monoxide near fires. Many of the images are weeks or months old, and I could not get a video of carbon monoxide to work, but the site is fairly interesting.
NASA also has some infrared images taken by the unmanned aerial vehicle, Ikhana. Here is one of the Gap fire near Santa Barbara on July 11.
Thanks, Chuck, for the tip about the smoke images.